I had the pleasure of interviewing a tremendous leader this morning as I research for my upcoming book on Inspirational Leadership. He shared with me a tremendous story that perfectly illustrates how the best leaders handle mistakes of their staff. This leader, Jody, shares his story in his own words:
“I was a brand-new counselor with a practice situated on the second-floor of a local mall amongst several other offices. There was very little thought given to the physical security and safety of myself, my staff and our patients. Some of the people who we treated were violent offenders, and the office should have electromagnetic locks and break-proof windows.
The local police visited me one morning with a vagabond man they had picked up. He had been wandering in the woods, muttering unintelligibly to himself. When thy brought him in, I introduced myself and reassured him that he was not being arrested, but rather had been brought here out of concern for his safety.
As we sat down in my office, I realized I had left this mans intake form and folder on the receptionists desk. I immediately felt embarrassed because I could not remember his name, despite being introduced to him only moments ago. I decided to leave this man unattended for a moment to walk back down the hall to retrieve his file. I assured him I would only be gone for 20 seconds. I asked him if that would be ok, and he said yes. I hurried down the hall and grabbed the file.
At that instant, I heard an explosion of sound come from my office, sounding like my pane-glass window had been shattered. I sprinted down the hall to find that the window had indeed shattered and the homeless man was now missing!
I looked out the exploded window to the parking lot one story below, and saw the police officers staring wide-eyed and open mouthed at me, my receptionist’s car directly below, its roof now crushed inwards, and the homeless man lying on the roof of her car! He had jumped through the window to escape!
I was so upset with myself… I knew better not to leave this man alone, and my embarrassment over forgetting him name caused me to violate an obvious principle. As the police were sorting out the mess below, and my receptionist was reeling over the damage to her car, I gulped and picked the phone up to dial my supervisor.
I phoned my supervisor and relayed the entire story. He listened intently, not interrupting. At the end, I heard him sigh. He said:
“Jody, I am so very sorry. This is my fault. I should have had those windows replaced years ago with break-proof windows. I haven’t done enough to protect the safety of you, your staff and our patients. I apologize. I’m going to fix this right away.”
I was literally stunned. Not only had he not chewed me out, he was literally accepting full responsibility for not doing more to serve me. It was an amazing lesson to me in terms of leadership. When high-performing staff make a mistake, always seek to understand first. Always ask “What more could I have done as their leader to serve them? Have I given them the tools and resources to do their jobs effectively? What could I have done to prevent this?” In the end, the best leaders are slow to lay blame, and quick to accept responsibility.”