Years ago I made what turned out to be a terrible recommendation on a key company project. I made the recommendation despite receiving sound and objective advice from one of my employees to take an alternative path. As circumstances revealed the cost of my poor judgment, I saw a bigger-picture opportunity. Obviously, I needed to own up to my mistake. However, the more important step was to ensure that this employee knew that his advice would be heeded in the future and that we would learn and move forward as a team.
Saying "you were right" can be a tough pill to swallow for many of us, in personal and in professional situations. But it is often (if not always) a necessary step in rebuilding and maintaining confidence in each other.
While very few decisions are met with complete team agreement, it's important to revisit what worked well and what didn't on key decisions you supported (regardless of whether your support let to a positive or negative outcome). Being strong enough to say "You were right" can be a key step in ensuring you make the most of a challenging situation.
Here are a few reasons why:
1. Great teams have freedom to fail intelligently. Seeing a leader own up to a mistake and acknowledge the better judgment of an employee can send a powerful message. It says "I am not competing with you. We are on the same team. You were right on this one and we will learn together." It also lets the team member know that you will expect the same self-reflection when they make an honest mistake.
2. Building safety is key to success in leadership. Team members need to feel safe to bring brutal facts to your attention as their leader. Publicly admitting a failure builds trust and makes it more likely they will be willing to share uncomfortable information with you when necessary. You may be willing to confront brutal facts as a leader, but doing so will be impossible if your employees withhold information from you.
3. You can turn the situation into an opportunity to diffuse tension and build confidence. If an employee gave advice that was not taken (and should have been heeded in retrospect) just have a frank conversation about it. Without being defensive, explain the rationale for your original decision and share what you've learned since. Thank them for their advice and encourage them to keep speaking up. You will need them to remain engaged.
Once in a while, every leader will need to swallow their pride and look inward in the face of a challenging situation of their own making. The strong leaders will be able to look their colleagues in the eye and, where appropriate, say three key words...
You. Were. Right.