Strip #2: “Always acknowledge a fault frankly. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.” -Mark Twain
This quote is at the bottom of my company email signature. Funny? Yes. But also so, so true. I’m really glad someone on the team picked this one. I love it because it covers so much essential truth in such a short time. That’s Clemens for you.
First, there is the unequivocal admonition to admit error, and to do it quickly. He doesn’t say “If you have a cool boss”, or “if you are sure you won’t be blamed”. The rules are “always” and “frankly”. Absolutely brilliant. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met the problem yet that got smaller and more manageable with age. A team member who comes to me quickly with a problem gives me the best chance to minimize the damage. I’ve tried to do the same for my own leaders and rely on them to reward my trust with trust. On base, this strategy has always bought me more than it cost me.
Second, there is the expectation that leaders will find such disclosures surprising, disarming even. It’s kind of a sad commentary on the state of leader-team relations, but it’s also very human. We don’t naturally value the admission of error, and leaders often forget to establish it as a cultural norm and create a safe environment for it. Explicitly setting that expectation, and always delivering on the promise of safe disclosures, has never failed me in overcoming the human reluctance to self-report.
Finally, there is the promise that this behavior will be rewarded, the bookend to the extension of trust at the beginning. I used to think he referred to the opportunity to continue messing things up while those in authority were off their guard, or that that fessing-up would mitigate the punishment for your original screw-up (after all, you can only commit other faults if you are still employed). From a more optimistic perspective I see, rather, a banking of good-will that occurs when disclosure enables deft recovery. This is currency you can draw upon on the next time (and there is always a next time).
Bottom line: Get trouble on the table fast and never miss an opportunity to reward it’s disclosure. In the uphill race against mistrust, you can’t afford to miss this even once.
-These are from a jar that my team presented me as I was leaving to accept a promotion. They are the impressions, thoughts, and ideas that they had come to associate with me during my time there. I’ve decided to share them, and what I remember of how they came to be, with my readers as I draw them at random-