Among the many people I enjoy conversing with in my role as a Salvation Army Officer are leaders from other organisational contexts who experience similar sort of leadership successes and challenges as I do. I had the opportunity to meet up with one such leader today, a very close friend who is currently the elected mayor of his city and a small business owner. His leadership experience and knowledge is diverse and complex with the responsibility of working alongside other elected members of council, while at the same time managing a team of employees.
Our conversation recognised the vulnerability for leaders to admit their mistakes to their peers and those they lead. Is this vulnerability a weakness or a strength? Well, potentially both. If admitting our mistakes is a window into our incompetence, then indeed it could well be a sign of weakness. However, if it is a display of humility that reflects a solid character, willing to admit when wrong, but uncompromising, even amidst conflict, when right; then indeed it is a strength. Unfortunately, personal insecurity and corporate competitiveness often creates an unsafe environment to openly admit ones mistakes.
My friend made a profound statement about how he influences his small business environment by sharing with me that he literally "budgets for mistakes." The genius of this ethos is that it makes it safe for his staff to make decisions and risk failing without damaging the business. Budgeting for mistakes enables the leader to give away power and empowers followers to have a go. Budgeting for mistakes creates a culture of innovation where mistakes are acknowledged as a part of the process of growth. Budgeting for mistakes promotes security instead of insecurity and collaboration instead of competition.
While the bottom line for my friends business is profitability, the principle of "budgeting for mistakes" could and should apply to whatever you define as your bottom line. Maybe then the vulnerability of admitting our mistakes will be mitigated by a vibrant environment where people are encouraged to try and fail so they will try and succeed!