What Quintessential Leadership Looks Like: Admitting When We’re Wrong, Sincerely Apologizing, and Making Amends

Posted: September 10, 2015 in Practical Quintessential Leadership
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Admitting wrongs is quintessential leadershipNone of us is perfect.

We all screw up from time to time. And, sadly, because it’s part and parcel of being human, we screw up a lot more than most of us are willing or honest enough to admit to ourselves and to others.

However, the difference between quintessential leaders and unquintessential leaders is what we do after we’ve screwed up.

Since screwing up is inevitable at some point, we all have to decide if, when, and how we handle it.

And what we choose to do after our screw-ups will demonstrate whether we are quintessential leaders or not, because this is the true test of our character and this is the accurate measure of who we are and what we are in every aspect of our lives.

Consistently choosing a path of dealing with our screw-ups will establish a pattern of behavior and, with time, that pattern of behavior will become our habit.

So the choice we make to address our screw-ups is the key to whether we are becoming quintessential leaders or unquintessential leaders.

Let’s look at what the unquintessential leadership path of dealing with screw-ups looks like.

President Bill Clinton models unquintessential leadership when dealing with wrongs

Unfortunately, this unquintessential leadership consistency of choice that leads Hillary Clinton models unquintessential leadership when dealing with wrongsto a pattern of behavior that becomes a habit in dealing with screw-ups is no better exemplified than with the public lives of President Bill Clinton and his wife, 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Since the Clintons began a life in public service, they individually and together have an established pattern – now a habit – of dealing with screw-ups:

  • Ignore it
  • Deflect attention elsewhere
  • Deny it
  • Dance around it with technicalities to suggest no screw-up
  • Point to all the other people doing it
  • Call it an unjustified attack by enemies
  • Joke about it
  • Sort of admit it finally, but with excuses and justifications
  • Sort of apologize, but clearly don’t mean it or believe it

I will not rehash the many past instances of this pattern/habit during the Clintons’ many years of public service. It’s not my intention to make them the subject of this post, but to point out that they represent unquintessential leadership in dealing with screw-ups.

However, I will show how this looks right now with how Hillary Clinton has handled the issue of using a private email server and private email account for State Department communication during her time as United States Secretary of State.

errors-wrongs-mistakes-quintessential-leadershipQuite simply, Hillary Clinton screwed up. Although the policy of using State Department servers and emails was not in effect when Clinton became Secretary of State (a point she keeps invoking and twisting to justify and excuse why she did what she did), it was within just a few short months into her tenure.

Despite the government policy – and one of the unquintessential leadership traits common to not just the Clintons, but almost everyone in public office around the world, is “the rules don’t apply to me” – going into effect, Secretary Clinton ignored it and continued to use her private email server and private email account throughout her term as Secretary of State.

When it was finally revealed publicly (don’t believe that everybody in the U.S. government didn’t know about it already and just turned a blind eye until the media got wind of it), Hillary Clinton executed the unquintessential leadership habit of dealing with screw-ups that she has perfected perhaps over a lifetime.

Hillary Clinton, this week, finally got the the last step of this unquintessential leadership habit of dealing with screw-ups.

However, Clinton’s last step looks, in the video of her sort-of apology, as if someone’s got a gun to her head and is forcing her to make a statement that Clinton doesn’t agree with and doesn’t believe.

The irony is that it seems the poll numbers – in favorability and with other present and potential Democrat candidates for president – have pushed Hillary Clinton to the last step of the unquintessential leadership habit that she and her husband have developed for dealing with screw-ups.

But if took this long and this much drama and avoidance to deal trust-trustworthiness-quintessential-leaderwith, in the big scheme of what presidents have to deal with both nationally and internationally, a less significant screw-up in personal conduct and following the rules, then the essential issues become Hillary Clinton’s character and trustworthiness in everything.

How, then, do quintessential leaders deal with screw-ups?

To be fair, there are times that we don’t know right away that we’ve screwed up.

But those cases are more rare than we can sometimes lead ourselves to believe because quintessential leaders have very sensitive consciences that knock on our brains pretty quickly when we’ve messed up and don’t stop knocking until we fix it.

As soon as quintessential leaders realize they’ve screwed up, they take immediate action to:

  • Admit it
  • Own it completely (no excuses or justifications)
  • Sincerely apologize for it
  • Make amends for it by taking action to fix it
  • Learn from it so they don’t repeat it

This is the tangible evidence of who is and who isn’t a quintessential leader. In the process of doing this as a consistent pattern of behavior, it becomes the quintessential leader’s habit for dealing with screw-ups.

In the process, trust and trustworthiness is established and things get resolved quickly and correctly, instead of snowballing into something way bigger than whatever the original screw-up was.

five-alarm-fire-from-embers-not-doused-quicklyAnd this affects the bottom line for quintessential leaders, their teams and their organizations because they don’t waste their time, their energy, and their resources constantly firefighting ignored easily-quenchable embers that blow up into 5-alarm fires that threatens to destroy everything. 

So what path do you and I choose to handle the screw-ups we inevitably make in our lives, personally and professionally?

Do our patterns of behavior look like that of an unquintessential leader?

Do our patterns of behavior look like that of a quintessential leader?

Or are our patterns of behavior a mixture of unquintessential leadership and quintessential leadership?

I daresay this is one area where we all need to change and improve to make our patterns of behavior – which builds the lifelong habit – reflect quintessential leadership.

Nothing less is acceptable.

How are we doing?

 

 

 

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