Leadership, at its core, is primarily a function of influencing people to move toward a common goal. It involves articulating a vision, establishing a direction, and motivating people to move toward that preferred future.
That's because relationships involve people and people are anything but simple. People are complicated. People are nuanced.
Building relationships takes time, something most leaders don't have a surplus of. Still, there's something you can do as a leader that can make all the difference, and it only requires saying three words:
"I was wrong."
It's true, one of the most powerful ways to influence people, and become a more effective leader, is to admit when you're wrong. Being wrong is human. It's normal. In fact, you might even say it's our default position.
For example, in a recent speech at a conference in the European Union, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, observed that "failure is a part of life." Sometimes even the best leaders are going to be wrong. Sometimes they'll make a bad decision or move in the wrong direction.
The problem is, most of us are allergic to those three words. The thought of having to say them out loud makes us anxious and causes our throat to swell shut. Maybe not literally, but most of us would rather endure an invasive dental procedure than admit to anyone that we messed up or made a mistake.
We think it makes us look weak or that it damages our credibility. However, the opposite is usually true. People respect you more when they know you're willing to use those three words. I would argue it's a sign of emotional intelligence to be able to admit when you're wrong--not only to yourself but to your team.
It means that you're willing to set aside those personal feelings and make decisions that are best for the relationship and for your team. That isn't always easy, but it's worth it. Here's why:
Look, everyone is wrong sometimes. Some of us are wrong more often than others.
We're often wrong because we make assumptions or we make decisions without all of the relevant information. We're wrong because we think we're right so we don't do the hard work of learning any more than we already know about a given subject. Sometimes we're wrong because we're stubborn.
The question isn't whether you, as a leader, are ever going to be wrong. The question is whether you're willing to admit it.
Even if you're unwilling to admit you were wrong, the people closest to you can often tell. All you do by refusing to admit it is create a barrier to an effective relationship. That reduces your influence and harms your leadership.
On the other hand, by showing that you're willing to use those three words, you invite your team to be in a more authentic relationship, and you give them permission to engage with you and help you be a better leader.
Trust Your Team
Finally, when you are willing to be vulnerable with your team, you demonstrate that you trust them. Don't underestimate how important this is. When you trust your team, and demonstrate it by being authentic, you build trust in return. And trust, after all, is one of the most important aspects of any relationship.