I share this story with you because it reinforces my faith not only in leadership theory, but also humanity. Here it is:
Two members of a team that I am on had an e-mail dialogue that was meant to be private; however it was accidentally forwarded to the entire distribution list.
As the conversation was meant to be private, they criticised a piece of work produced by one of the other members in a way that lacked the gentle tact and diplomacy that would have been present had they been speaking directly to the person.
When the two members realized what had happened they both sent out sincere and heartfelt apologies to the person who’s work they criticized as well as to the rest of the group who were cc-d on the note. Then they both resigned.
A couple of hours later, the person who was the subject of the criticism sent out a general e-mail that clearly expressed that she did not appreciate the comments however she did not want to see the scenario blown out of proportion. She simply accepted the apologies, explained her point of view, and declared that it was time to just move on and get back to work as a team. She signed off ‘cheers and hugs’.
Well! Cheers and hugs indeed!
This is a significant example of leadership for the following reasons. The people who made the mistake:
1. acknowledged their error
2. declared responsibility
3. private and public apologizes were made
4. showed remorse by explaining themselves
5. explained what they have learned from it
6. offered to resign to show they meant it
On the part of the individual who was the subject of the error
1. She accepted the apology, but not the resignations
2. Did not condone the behaviour but noted that it was their opinion
3. Expressed her point of view in the context of the criticism
4. Declared it was time to drop it, move on, and get back to work as a team
5. Signed off in a positive way
I am so impressed by these ladies I want to cheer and hug them! Each of them behaved like true leaders and it is such a privilege to serve with them.
We all make mistakes, we all have lapses in judgement, say and do things we regret. It is very normal to speak more directly and bluntly when there is no one present who will be hurt by the lack of tact. Most of us choose our words and approach very carefully when not to do so would result in insulting, hurting or showing disrespect to someone. This is normal. We must allow ourselves and others our humanity and all the flaws and virtues that come with the human experience.
When it comes to genuine human error like the scenario above, we must accept that no one is immune to it. Our mark of leadership is revealed by the way we behave after the mistake is made.
When my next turn comes to make a mistake I hope I have the courage and wisdom to follow the actions of my peers.