Pack Leadership: Mistakes

Posted on November 2, 2009



Kai, flat-coat/chow mix, and Rustle, miniature poodle

One of the great things about dogs is that they don’t care about your mistakes. If you live with dogs, you’ve experienced coming home from a rough day to the enthusiastic, unconditional love of your dog. More than that, though, they don’t care if you make a mistake with them. They don’t understand what happened, but they don’t agonize over it either. They let it go and move on to the next moment.

If you struggle to let go of your worries and live in the moment, dogs are great tutors. Something bad just happened? Oh well. Hey! A squirrel!

I make mistakes with my dogs. I bring the wrong energy to a situation. I raise my voice when I should stay calm and even. I tell people that I’ll be perfect in Heaven. In this life, I’m going to be human and that means mistakes. What I’ve learned to do is to let go of my mistakes, and to move forward to doing better with my dogs.

Humans are more complicated, of course. We don’t forgive and forget as quickly as dogs do. As a leader, you have to lay the groundwork for your own apologies and recoveries. You do this by teaching your people to apologize, which is about taking responsibility, rather than being sorry, which is about how they feel about their mistakes. You do this by forgiving your people and moving on. Once you’ve dealt with the mistake and accepted the apology, move on. Be fast. Never bring it up again. Then, when you make a mistake, you’ve created an environment in which you can apologize and get on with work.

The truth is, among humans, sometimes an apology is not enough. Sexual harassment, criminal activity, racism, or any discrimination, require a resignation rather than an apology. As a leader, you need to stay alert to the differences, and you need to be clear when accepting an apology that there is a line that can’t be crossed. You have to set the example here, too. One of the first things you should do in any position is write your resignation letter. Don’t sign it or date it, but have it in your desk. You’re not planning to make a horrible mistake, but if sometimes there’s a catastrophic collision of events and you need to go. Do it quickly and cleanly, remembering that your former co-workers have to keep going after you’re gone.

Then you can…hey! A squirrel!

Posted in: dogs, Leadership