I write a bi-weekly article for our local paper the Brandon Sun. They edit it once in awhile but mostly it is published as I submit it, except for last week. As I mentioned in my blog Monday past I was nominated for an award in the Leadership & Business Category and my article topic for March 21stwas to shine a light on the women of distinction that have helped me become my own woman of distinction. Of course the list is longer than the column would allow but it was a way to showcase how women leaders create more women leaders.
Much to my surprize when I opened the paper I found a glaring error in the first line that stated ‘this is the second year that my colleagues and friends nominated me…’ I was in fact only nominated once. So I approached the Editor and asked him what had happened. He committed to check into the situation and get back to me. Here is his response, cut and pasted from my email.
“It was an editing mistake ( a misreading of the text) by the city desk editor. The way it was initially worded was slightly odd, without punctuation, and without thinking he changed the words to make it mean what he thought it meant.
Honest mistake. We’re putting in a correction in tomorrow’s paper.”
No apology and dare I say no accountability. Perhaps you will agree, here is the line he changed;
“This year two of my colleagues and friends nominated me for the Brandon YWCA Woman of Distinction award in the Leadership and Business category.”
Writing is a subjective; we all have style preferences, which is why we gravitate to certain authors and not to others. The editors at the Brandon Sun have the right to change anything they want in my submissions before publishing them. But they aren’t allowed to misrepresent me and this felt a little more like blaming my writing style and punctuation than taking ownership of their mistake. I fail to see how he interpreted what I wrote to mean that I had been nominated twice.
The real issue for me is that they have neglected to apologize for their mistake. I completely understand that people make mistakes. I am, in fact a person, so understand how people make mistakes. The un-apology is an epidemic in our society. How often do you experience what I would call a kinda apology; one that might be dressed up like a real apology but is actually hidden blame or deflection? When did we become so afraid of being wrong? Who really thinks they are right all the time? And what does admitting your wrong say about you? In my opinion, never admitting you’re wrong says a whole lot more about you than when you show the courage to own it.
Here is what happened for me; they did not apologize, they in fact blamed my submission for their mistake so I lose respect for them, don’t trust them and I like them far less. It puts my reputation in jeopardy and adds a blemish to my public persona because people know that I was not nominated twice but it is written by me. How do I not look like a liar?
What if he had said this to me?
I’m really sorry Tanya, it was an editing mistake (a misreading of the text) by the city desk editor. We will make efforts to ensure this doesn’t happen again. We’re putting in a correction in tomorrow’s paper.
Easy to understand, easy to forgive. I don’t need the background since he said it was a misreading of the text. And truthfully I don’t even need to know who made the mistake I just need to know that it has been addressed, it will be fixed and they will take strides to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The further he explained the more he looked like a fraud. And if my writing style is causing them issues isn’t the onus on them to provide direction or coaching on how to clean it up? How do I have confidence moving forward that this kind of thing won’t happen again?
So what’s the lesson here?
Admit when you screwed up, apologize for it, take steps to fix where it went wrong and make corrective action where possible. And if you are the boss or the leader don’t cast blame publically on your team members. You take the hit and then you help them see their mistake and how they can be better next time. If you blame them, they will blame someone else, in this case that someone was me.
Leaders aren’t perfect, but paying attention to things like apology and accountability will help you create a fearless culture. If you can be wrong, they can be wrong. If you can apologize, they can apologize. If you are willing to learn from your mistake, they are willing to learn from their mistake. If you want to do better, they want to do better.
Stand up, take the hit, do the work, be the example, create the example.
It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character. – Dale Turner (Dale Turner is an American trumpet player, best known for being a member of the American new wave band Oingo Boingo.)