‘I Was Wrong’ vs ‘I Made a Mistake’- A Vital Leadership Distinction

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“I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”

How many times have you heard a leader offer up that kind of explanation for something they’ve done?

Got caught fudging the numbers?

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”

Told a blatant lie?

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”

Had an inappropriate relationship?

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”

Here’s the point. Somewhere along the way, our culture has come to accept the phrase, “I made a mistake” as being the same as acknowledging, “I was wrong.”

But these are not the same thing. Not even close.

And leaders must recognize the enormous differences between the two if they are to protect their integrity and their character.

Here are 5 important distinctions between making a mistake, and doing something wrong.

  1. A mistake is an honest error involving facts or miscalculating an outcome.

    Doing something wrong involves a moral failure.

  2. A mistake can result from attempting new initiatives.

    Doing something wrong can result from knowingly crossing a clear ethical boundary.

  3. A mistake can be a learning opportunity resulting in growth.

    Doing something wrong can lead towards the erosion of character.

  4. A mistake can indicate there is an area of competence that requires development.

    Doing something wrong can indicate there is an area of character that requires development.

  5. A mistake is something that leaders should never fear.

    Doing something wrong is something leaders should shun completely.

For leaders there are important ways that understanding these distinctions can enhance your leadership today.

  • If you tried something new and it didn’t work out? Own it. Acknowledge the mistake, learn and move on.

  • If you committed a breach of ethics, don’t call it a mistake. Let people know you were wrong. Fix it, and learn from it.

Everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone does something wrong and calls it a mistake. The difference sounds minor, but the implications are significant.

For leaders who value their integrity, it’s a distinction worth mastering.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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