Three Most Difficult Words for Leaders to Say

As leaders, we all know the importance of setting a good example.

It’s one of the five fundamental practices of exemplary leadership. It obviously makes sense to set a good example. Why, then, is it hard to admit a mistake?

After all, we want those we work with to be accountable and accept responsibility for their actions.

The 3 Hardest Words to Say


I think the three hardest words for a leader to say are, ‘I was wrong.’ I would like to be able to say that I have never made a mistake… that I was never wrong, but you all know I would be lying. The fact is, I have made a number of mistakes as a leader… and I hated when it happened!

Even worse, though, was having to admit ‘I was wrong’… sometimes in front of a group of people with whom I worked.

And yet, I can honestly say that I never walked away with a sense that I lost “market share” as a leader. If anything, I felt the opposite occurred. People seemed to respect the fact that I would admit that I made a mistake. Of course, the admission was usually accompanied by an apology or sharing steps I would take to fix my blunder. But, depending on the mistake, this may not be enough.

Difficult Getting Real

We have all heard comments like; ‘to err is human.’ If we as leaders believe this, then why is it so difficult for us to be real… to admit we made a mistake? Too often, leaders try to ignore a mistake… pretending it didn’t occur, cover it up, or blame someone else. And yes, if I am honest with myself, I am sure that somewhere along the way I have done these too.

What’s one of the most damaging outcomes of not admitting mistakes or that we were wrong? Loss of trust! Stephen Covey in his book, The Speed of Trust, quotes a variety of statistics that show the lack of trust. Among them are the following:

  • 51% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management.

  • 36% of employees believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity.

Covey goes on to say that trust is the ‘key leadership competency of the new global economy.’

According to Leigh Branham in The 7 Hidden Reasons People Leave, one of the top seven reasons voluntarily separate from an organization is loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders. So, not only may we lose the trust of others, but we may lose good employees.

Moving On

What do we do when we make a mistake? Dennis and Michelle Reina in their book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace, suggest there are a number of actions we can take and among them are ‘admit mistakes.’

When we admit mistakes, we and others can learn from those mistakes, as well as open the door to restore trust.

How about you? How do you handle mistakes? Do you tend to admit them or take some other option? What suggestions can you offer to help other leaders to be honest enough to admit their mistakes?  What are other impacts for failing to say, ‘I was wrong?’ What do you think are the three hardest words for Leaders to say?

Dr Surya M Ganduri, PhD. PMP. is the Founder & President of eMBC, Inc., an international firm specializing in strategic and executive leadership development processes that Help People Succeed in an Evolving World. Dr Surya has over 28 years of business experience in management consulting, leadership development, executive coaching, process improvements, organizational development and youth leadership. For more information visit www.eMBCinc.com or contact eMBC, Inc., directly at (630) 445-1321.

About Dr. Surya

Using Quantum Physics and business research, Dr. Surya explores the correlation between the science of consciousness and patterns in the business world, to suggest innovative ways of using this wisdom to lead and succeed in a business environment that is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. Self-awareness is the awareness of the self as separate from the thoughts that are occurring at any point in time. Without self-awareness the self perceives and believes the thoughts that are occurring to be who the self is. Self-awareness gives one the option or choice to choose thoughts being thought rather than simply thinking the thoughts that are stimulated from the accumulative events leading up to the circumstances of the moment. Along with his work as an Author, Writer, Blogger and popular Internet Radio Talk Show Host, Dr. Surya is in-demand as a public speaker. Clients include small to large corporations and individuals.
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