Cover Up or Own Up?

When you feel you’ve done something wrong at work–made a mistake, compromised your integrity, failed to deliver, hurt somebody–what do you do?

Step one is honestly evaluating. Did I do something wrong? Did I make a mistake? How did this happen?

Step two is the one that we always screw up. Usually, we wait. Hold our breath. Brush it under the rug. Hope that nobody noticed.

When we try to cover up our own problems and mistakes, there are three possible outcomes: (1) Someone tattles, (2) Someone notices and keeps quiet, or (3) No one ever knows.

If someone tattles–you lose.

If someone notices and keeps quiet–you lose their respect, and likely the respect of others they’ll gossip with.

Think you’re a winner if no one ever notices? How much time and energy will you waste stressing about it, covering your tracks, rehearsing your contingency plan, feeling like a hypocrite, being suspicious of people, wondering if this job’s really for you…?

There’s a much better option for step two: Proactively own up, apologize, and make it right.

Leaders, peers, and followers alike will respect you for it. You’ll respect yourself for it. In fact, you’ll probably end up with more credibility than before–because everyone knows honesty takes guts.

Last time I had to own up to a big mistake at work, the leader who would have had to deal with the fallout got to the heart of the matter when she told me: “It’s okay to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. What’s important is that you show you’re willing to learn from them and move forward. Hiding or playing dumb is what causes the real damage. It makes someone hard to trust. Taking responsibility right away and committing to make it right and grow from it–that shows real character. That’s exactly what we need on our team.”

Bottom line: When there’s a chance you’ll be the subject of a tough conversation, you want to be the one to start that conversation.

 

Author: Peter Elbridge

I am a lifelong learner and avid reader, which translates into doing smart work for myself, my team, and my clients. I have a passion for effective leadership and an even bigger passion for helping others do and feel better. I have a lot of experience in communication, public speaking, and writing. Above all, I have a deep and genuine care for every life I touch. That's why I write. (My opinions and endorsements are my own and do not represent my employer.)

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