There's an expression for owning up to your errors that I really like. It's called "eating crow." It essentially means undergoing the highly unpleasant process of admitting you're wrong after taking an adamant position to the contrary.
Everyone eats crow at some point; nobody enjoys it. Leaders, in my experience, are especially averse to this feathery meal. After all, we're supposed to be strong, farseeing and dynamic. Screw-ups shouldn't be part of the deal.
Oh, but they are. They are. Let me share one of mine. At an early stage of my company, we stood at a crossroads. I won't bore you with the details; suffice it to say that it was kind of a big deal that we not choose the wrong road.
One of my colleagues had the final say in the decision. Thing was, I had much more experience in this particular vertical than he did, and I disagreed with him. I didn't outright veto him, but I put enough subtle pressure on him that he essentially changed courses because of me.
It was a disaster. A total calamity. The wrong answer, the wrong idea, the wrong approach. I was amazed. I had all this experience, my colleague was relatively new to the field, and yet there we stood.
I apologized. I did it immediately. I admitted my guilt to everyone involved. And you know what? Thinking it over, it isn't the humiliation of the ordeal that stands out--it's my team's reaction.
They didn't look down on me. They didn't question my competence. Far from it; they trusted me more than ever. It was one of the most important lessons of my career, and the reasons are simple:
1. Whether you fess up or not, smart people know the score. They know you blundered and that the only honorable, courageous course on the menu is a nice hot helping of crow.
You can avoid it, lie about it, ignore it, but they know. They're also aware that most leaders are proud by nature. Most leaders aren't going to eat that crow. So if they see you put on a bib, grab a knife and fork, and dig in, they'll be impressed.
2. Your humility buys you trust. It buys you support. It gives you a longer leash for future imperfections, and it gives your managers permission to eat crow when they drop the ball.
3. Finally, every single one of these benefits cascades. From executives to managers, from managers to teams, eating crow creates an atmosphere of humility, transparency and trust, plus a pervading sense of good humor born of acknowledging our common humanity regardless of where we stand on the corporate ladder.