One of the worst mistakes you can make as a leader is to fail to take responsibility when things go wrong. One of the most blatant ways this happens is for a leader to point the finger at someone else as the responsible party instead of taking responsibility as the team leader. Or as it is commonly referred to as “getting thrown under the bus”. Have you ever been thrown under the bus? Most of us have been, many of us have experienced this failed leadership multiple times.
It makes the person thrown feel abandoned, demeaned, and devalued. It also makes the rest of the team question if you can be trusted – will they be the next to be thrown?
If you need to have a conversation with a member of the team about how something was done or a decision that was made, do it one on one – in private. Remember – praise in public, difficult conversations in private.
Some may say that claiming responsibility as the team leader is career damaging and unnecessarily self sacrificial – I disagree. Your team looks to you for guidance, as an example of how to behave, and for protection – this is a big part of building trust. When your team knows you have their back, they are brave and sure – they act with confidence and without hesitation. They are productive and will make the correct decisions on their own most of the time.
It is human nature to want to protect ourselves – it comes instinctively and we sometimes act or speak without thinking. As leaders we must be very self aware, and work hard to fight this instinct. The trust and loyalty that you will build with your team when you take responsibility together is amazing. Remember, you get to bask in success together too!
Swallowing your pride and fixing the mistake
If you have made this gross error and you are enlightened enough to realize it or have it pointed out to you, it must be corrected immediately and publicly. Most likely others witnessed this event, which makes it even more humiliating for the person thrown. Perhaps calling a team meeting and apologizing to the person in front of the entire team. It did not escape the notice of your bosses either – you may consider going to them and letting them know that you are taking responsibility as the team leader as you should have initially.
Humility is one of the toughest lessons to learn. It is difficult at the time, but you and your team will be better off for it.