I have been a student of leadership for many years, which means I try to learn all I can about effective leadership.
One of the life lessons I have learned that translated well to leadership is we must be honest with ourselves and especially with others. Being honest with ourselves and others means we need to admit when we are wrong. Admitting you were wrong is never easy, but it’s necessary. Do you admit when you are wrong?
By admit, I mean, not only to yourself, which is harder than it sounds, but to those you love, to your colleagues or to your employees. If you have a hard time admitting when you screw up, this month’s column is for you.
Now let’s be straight here. No one likes to admit they were wrong. But permit me to share with you the immense benefits of admitting when you are wrong.
I attended a National Behavioral Health Conference a while back. One of the keynote speakers was Chris Matthews, from the television show “Hardball.” Do you remember his show?
Matthews, on his show, talked mostly about politics and politicians. His show was on CNBC and then MSNBC before it was canceled in 2020. At the conference, he talked about politicians, politics and leadership, among other topics.
I was duly impressed with his speech, so I bought his book. His 1988 book I bought is “Hardball: How Politics is Played Told By the One Who Knows the Game.” His show “Hardball” came from the title of his book. His book is filled with stories of politics and lessons concerning leadership principles.
It was a very good read for aspiring leaders, or for anyone for that matter.
One chapter I found particularly intriguing is titled “Hang a Lantern on Your Problem,” which basically means let your wrongs be known. In fact, not only make them known, but shine a light on your wrongs for everyone to see.
In this chapter of the book, Matthews tells stories of leaders taking responsibility for their mistakes and mishaps. One incident he talks about concerns Ronald Reagan.
In November 1986, President Reagan asserted, to the world, that no arms were shipped to Iran in exchange for hostages. You may not remember the scandal, but at the time, it was a big deal.
President Reagan later had to reverse that assertion. Not only did he admit he was wrong, but he did so on national television.
Talk about shining a light on his problem. Wow.
Here is what he said in a nationally televised event on March 4, 1987, from the Oval Office: “A few months ago I told the American people that I did not trade arms for hostages … The facts and the evidence tell me that’s not true. Now, what should happen when you make a mistake is this: you take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on … You know, by the time you reach my age, you’ve made plenty of mistakes. And if you have lived your life properly, so you learn. You put things in perspective. You pull your energies together. You change. You go forward.”
Take your knocks and move on. I like it. The lesson is, don’t shy away when you’re wrong. Admit when you make a mistake and move on. No one expects you to be perfect. Admit it when you’ve messed things up. Admit it when you have wronged someone. Admit it when you are less than what you should have been.
In other words, take responsibility for your mishaps. Everybody appreciates an honest and humble admission. Humbly admitting that you made a mistake will make you a better co-worker, leader, friend, husband, wife, partner, mom or dad.
So take a lesson from President Ronald Reagan and hang a lantern on your problem. You will be glad you did.
Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.