The Power of Admitting a Mistake

Admitting that you’ve made a mistake can be a hit to your ego. But arguing with or blaming others or trying to dodge by saying something vague like “Mistakes were made…” will only make things worse. It’s much better to take responsibility for the situation so that you can clear the air and move on. Swallow your pride and simply say “I was wrong,” offering a brief explanation without making excuses.

If your error had a negative effect on others, acknowledge it. Really listen to their reactions — don’t get defensive or interrupt. Then explain what you’re doing to remedy the mistake. Be open to feedback about what how you plan on rectifying the siutation. And tell those affected by your error what you’ve learned about yourself and what you’re going to do differently in the future.

If you make a mistake and do not correct it, this is called a mistake.


Many times when a mistake is made, we try to pretend that it did not happen. We attempt to justify the wrong position or try to cover it up, which leads to additional mistakes. This situation reminds me of another quote — “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

Quite often, more damage is done to credibility, relationships, trust and integrity by the actions taken after the original mistake. This is true in personal relationships and especially true when a leader makes a mistake. How many times have we seen high-profile people get prosecuted, not for the original crime, but for the attempt to cover it up by lying?

Of course there is another choice when a mistake is made—admit it, learn from it, correct it and apologize to those that were adversely affected. There is power in properly admitting a mistake.

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new

Albert Einstein

Here are some of important reasons why we need to admit a mistake:

  • Averts the need to continue to defend a difficult or incorrect position.
  • Increases leadership credibility.
  • Avoids additional mistakes trying to cover up or “adjust” for the original mistake.
  • Reduces personal stress and tension.
  • Provides a “reset” from others in both personal and professional relationships.
  • If you take responsibility for a mistake on-behalf of others who participated, it builds loyalty.
  • Provides a learning situation for you and others.
  • Builds trust—others see that you are human, honest and truthful.
  • Allows quick correction, which saves time and resources.
  • Gives others a chance to express views and provide new information.
  • Shows others that they are valued and that their input counts, which builds collaboration.
  • Sets the tone for risk-taking, open communication and makes you more approachable.
  • Provides concrete examples to reinforce critical aspects of culture: decisiveness, truthfulness, openness, integrity and quick correction.
  • Removes the “elephant-in-the-room” situation where everyone knows about the mistake, but no one talks about it.
  • Helps offset the bad feelings for those that may have wasted their time.

Admitting and correcting mistakes does not make you look weak; it actually makes you look stronger.

Bruce Rhoades

There are several principles to keep in mind to achieve the best outcome when admitting and correcting a mistake.

  • Don’t blame others. Take responsibility. If someone else needs coaching, do it in private.
  • Do not try to get others to admit the mistake on your behalf. When others are asked to do the “dirty work,” your credibility goes out the window.
  • Stick to the facts and do not make it look like an excuse. Indicate what information was incorrect.
  • This is not a time for cynical humor used to disguise an excuse or blame.
  • Indicate what you and/or the team/friends should learn from the mistake and how not to repeat it.
  • Ask for more input from others.
  • Apologize to those who have wasted their time.
  • If possible, state the new direction, or decision, then indicate who is accountable to implement.
  • If there is not an immediate correction, provide the process and timeframe for correcting the mistake.

Your best teacher is your last mistake

Ralph Nader

All of us make mistakes—it is part of learning and growing. Admitting and correcting mistakes does not make you look weak; it actually makes you look stronger. When you admit mistakes, you help establish a culture of open communication and a willingness to improve by demonstrating an attitude of, “Let’s learn from this.”

Remember, mistakes are almost never “secret”—most are visible, and the longer they go without correction, the more difficult and expensive it is to change—not to mention that the longer it continues, the worse the leader appears.

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