I’ve been thinking about the proper way to admit error and to apologize a lot lately. On a personal level, this is because my kids are getting smarter than me and it comes up often. On a more public level, it is because between the Democratic Primary Season where the quantity of public appearances increases the odds of gaffes and errors, and our President who makes a lot of mistakes – I feel like we are often watching people handle errors and mistakes in ALL OF THE WRONG WAYS.
So! I thought maybe non-politician, non-public figure me could actually impart some personal wisdom to those who need it.
First of all, to do your best to prevent mistakes, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you so that your odds of embarrassing yourself with public errors are less. Also? Make sure you have created an environment where those people are allowed to correct you. If the smart people around you are scared you’ll shame them on twitter if they dare correct you, then you’re not taking advantage of their wisdom.
In my case…my kids are smarter than me around a lot of social issues because they are growing up in a more accepting generation and so I’ve given them a trusting environment where they can correct me if I’m looking at something incorrectly or saying something incorrect.
But if you’ve made a mistake – like let’s take a simple mistake that has nothing to do with politics and honestly is a mistake I’m certain has been made before. Let’s say you said a storm system was heading into Alabama when it was not. Now…first know that Alabama gets a SHIT TON of bad weather so this is actually not a dumb mistake. This is a, “I’m tired because I have a hard job and my brain and my mouth are not in sync,” kind of mistake that we all make.
Once you have been made aware of your mistake – IMMEDIATELY ADDRESS IT SOMEHOW. I don’t know if you do it at another press conference when someone inevitably asks you about it, or if you issue a press release, but as soon as you can? OWN IT. “The American People elected me because they trust me to govern in a safe and effective way and I hope you know I am doing that job effectively even if on the very rare occasion I am tired and make a mistake at a press conference. I assure the people in the path of this storm that I am apprised of the situation and am monitoring so the federal government and provide aid if needed and I apologize for any extra concern my error made have given you.”
And then for the rest of us? For the general public? If someone you hate makes a dumb mistake, keep in mind that someone you love will do the same thing some day and how you handle BOTH mistakes should be similar. I dislike our President for 9,000 reasons – none of them having to do with his mistaking my state for being in the path of the storm and so I’m focusing on the problems that are unique to him and not making a big deal about the things he does that ever politician or elected official does if they’re in office long enough.
I miss having leaders who A) made fewer mistakes due to creating a supportive team around them who felt safe to correct them and who B) owned the mistakes they made and learned from them. You would be surprised how much good can come out of a public declaration of, “I’m sorry for the thing I did/said that I see now was/is wrong. Please allow me grace to continue learning and growing as I serve the people of this community.” In this era of social media documenting every word that comes out of people’s mouths and with the politics of the day where everyone wants to shame the person they hate, every day someone is pointing at mistakes people make and I wish we could focus on CHARACTER error or POLICY errors more than public gaffes.