Recently, someone in a position of trust and honor was found to have published someone else’s work without attribution.
The situation was made worse by their affiliation with an organization whose reputation for trust and honor is sacrosanct.
Plagiarism and/or unattributed quotes happen. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances, sometimes not. Sometimes, there are excuses and denial.
Coming clean about our mistakes
We’re not perfect beings. All of us make mistakes, no matter what our handlers, customer support people, PR representatives and spokespeople say.
When we make mistakes, the reasons are fairly consistent. We’re under deadline pressure and/or circumstances distract us and alter our behavior, even if for a short while – and it often seems like those circumstances, distractions and pressures occur at the worst possible time.
In response, our fight or flight kicks in, and we buckle down and crank out the email, document, work product or service.
Yesterday, one of these situations happened to me. After four days of intense meetings and business travel in the middle of a family move, followed by a hectic morning of back to back appointments, I had to lead a conference call. I was not as prepared for it as I would have liked. While the call went OK, I knew that it could have been better.
While this probably didn’t break the trust of those involved, it could have even though the parts where I was less prepared than I wanted to be might only have been detected by a few of those involved. The problem is that this could have created a small crack in their trust in my ability to deliver.
At this point, I had a choice. Pretend nothing happened or acknowledge it and make amends by putting some space in my calendar for prep before the next meeting so that it doesn’t happen again. Choose your solution carefully.
Commitment vs. Ego
When we’re “caught” in a situation like this, the cause may no longer exist, whether it was legitimate or an excuse. By the time the mistake goes public, the cause might not make any sense at all.
This is why your ego has to take a back seat and let your commitment to the people involved take over. Our egos are frequently the cause of conflicts, whitewashes and “cover ups”.
Ego spawns thoughts like “They cant be right because that means I’m wrong.”
Commitment must ALWAYS take precedence over ego.
If you’re a comrade of someone in an organization based on trust and honor and they choose themselves over the organization in a matter of trust and honor, how does that make you feel?
While it may be politically unsound for an elected official to admit a mistake, explain the situation and take steps to make amends, it’s equally ignorant to pretend nothing happened.
This isn’t pleading not guilty to something you didn’t do. It’s lying about something that happened long ago when you were perhaps young(er), less than 100% (even temporarily) and/or affected by then current circumstances. We like to pretend that circumstances don’t matter and that we’re perfect. They matter and we aren’t. We’re human.
When someone spins your mistake, it’s their lie. It becomes yours when you fail to call out their lie. It’s as easy as “Wait a minute, that’s not what’s going on here. Let me explain.“
Why this matters to business leaders
Consider the question that a failure to “Let me explain” provokes about your decision making ability, regardless of anything you’ve done in the past.
The damage occurs when you choose ego over commitment because it tells everyone that your commitment as a leader to them and the organization is less important than your individual wants and needs.
It tells everyone that you can’t be trusted. Ever tried to regain trust of family? Constituents? Employees? Clients? The public? It’s terribly difficult.
When the lie is about the tiniest little thing, it sends a message: It tells your staff you’ll lie about anything. Trust is fragile. Your staff needs to be able to trust and believe in you, and you need this of them.
Put yourself in their place: How hard would you work for someone you can’t trust?
Never forget you’re a leader first (commitment) and an individual second (ego).