Taking responsibility for a mistake seems as if it should be such an easy thing to do. And yet often we struggle with this task.
The tendency begins when we are small. Were there times when you stayed silent and allowed another person to be blamed for something that you did? Did you ever lie about something you were supposed to do but didn’t? What in the end was harder: the consequence that you might have received had you taken responsibility for your action, or the guilt that you still feel even though it was years ago? And what was the impact of your silence on your relationship with the person you allowed to be blamed or the person affected by your mistake?
This human frailty can show up in the work environment. Mistakes - some small with seemingly insignificant consequences, others large and far-reaching in their impact - happen often. More often than one might expect, few employees step up immediately to say ‘It was me. I apologize. I made an assumption about how that should be done and I was wrong. It won’t happen again’.
What would it be like if we existed in a world where we could count on one another to behave like that? Imagine if you worked with people who took responsibility immediately and made that kind of statement. Far from viewing such people as idiots or incompetent, you would view them as honourable. They would be the ones you would want to have working for you or have on your team for a project.
When you can honour your word and take responsibility for your actions, it frees you up to move forward. You can make a commitment to do better the next time and move on.
If you are a manager, think about the kind of work environment you create for your employees. Think about whether you are modelling the behaviour, whether you admit your mistakes when they happen. And think about how you respond to an employee who admits they made a mistake.