Imperfect Humans

As wise as I can make myself sound on these weekly Stretches by giving all kinds of sage advice, I can make the most bone-headed mistakes sometimes.

This week, we had our annual LionSpeak Team Retreat. It’s been on our calendars for six months. Of course, this year it was destined to be virtual, and I was ready. I had a great agenda, updated vision, values, and strategic plan to present to the team all organized on a beautiful slide deck. We had a new agreement finished for our contract trainers to review, complete with an updated position description. I had mailed LionSpeak swag boxes ahead of time to each of my team members with handwritten notes of thanks for all that they contribute to our success. I even snuck in a split of prosecco to toast with at the end.

I set my alarm the night before with plenty of time to wake up slow (just like I like), shower and dress, and clear out my inbox before the retreat. As a business owner and leader, I was feeling pretty darn good about having pulled it all together. Until…

Tom walked into the bathroom with a plate of breakfast for me. As I was combing out my wet hair, fresh from the shower, he casually said, “You seem really relaxed to be running so late this morning.”

I smiled at him. “Oh honey, I’m not late at all. I’ve got plenty of time. The retreat starts at 9:00.”

“Oh, that’s good… because your calendar says 8:00 am.”

I froze. And, then I remembered. It was scheduled for 8:00 am, not 9:00. “What time is it right now?”

“8:13”

Now, I’ll just allow you a moment to speculate on the whirlwind of activity (and amount of profanity) that ensued. Needless to say, I had four highly professional, always-early team members sitting on Zoom, patiently awaiting their leader’s arrival to the company’s annual team retreat. To say it was embarrassing and humbling would be a gross understatement.

With my wet hair in a ponytail, clothed in the first clothes I could get my hands on, and no breakfast or makeup… I seriously considered making up some sympathy-inducing story that would buy me some instant forgiveness, but… since integrity was one of my core values, I opted for the truth. I had made a big, fat mistake.

I have no idea how I got it into my head that the meeting started at 9:00 instead of 8:00, but I had. And there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it now but one: Own it. Sincerely apologize for it. Swallow the embarrassment and attempt to move on without too much attention on it. Learn my lesson. Take my hit.  And do my level best to never let it happen again.

It occurred to me later this week, that while I had not at all modeled the professional behavior I wanted to for my team in one way, I had modeled it for them in another way: Owning and publicly acknowledging my mistakes, learning from them, and making them right.

We are all human. We will make mistakes. We will mess up. We will get some things wrong. If you’re expecting perfection from your team or yourself, you will be disappointed and frustrated. The more reasonable professional expectation is not perfection but maturity, ownership, and growth. When we teach our teams to own their mistakes and missteps, publicly apologize, learn and grow from them, and commit to doing better, we get teams who can take chances, try new things, and be human.

This week, discuss with your team the desire for high levels of professional behaviors, including the idea of owning your mistakes, publicly acknowledging them to your team, learning what must be learned, and changing what must be changed to correct the mistake and keep it from reoccurring.

No one can carry the weight of “perfect” for too long, but we can all lift each other up in modeling mature, professional leadership with imperfect humans.

“The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake—
you can’t learn anything from being perfect.”
~Adam Osborne