The whispers perpetrated the office. Not surprisingly, those who had for so long felt threatened by Rebecca’s talents paraded her mistake around like a piñata, whacking it and eagerly anticipating the torrent of candy that might follow.
Rebecca’s head hung in shame. She’d readily admitted it. Yes, she’d messed up. Her communication to the company’s stakeholders had been rushed, and in the end, it had blown up in her face.
To make things worse, it had been the company president who had pointed out the error. Not that she’d berated Rebecca for it, but still, she’d noticed and that alone was gut-wrenching.
And so, as she knew she must, Rebecca had mustered the courage and sent an apologetic email to her boss, accepting full accountability for the mistake. She made no excuses. No, she stepped up to the plate and openly acknowledged the error of her way.
Chime! The incoming email message yanked her out of her misery. Then her stomach sank. It was a reply from the boss. Gulp.
No worries about the mistake. It happens. You rock, and one little error doesn’t change that! Keep up the great work! We’re lucky to have you on the team. 🙂
In an instant and with a two-line email, Tonya had not only repaired the damage to Rebecca’s ego, but had in fact created a fully engaged and wholly loyal employee. Yes, the error had been made. Yes, it had been noticed. But no, Tonya wasn’t going to let it define either the contributions Rebecca had made and would continue to make, nor allow it to be blown out of proportion. It was what it was. A mistake. We all make them. Let’s move on……and in doing so, the value Rebecca felt as an employee (and more importantly, as a human being) was reinforced.
How would you have handled this? While most of us would like to say we’d have done exactly as Tonya did, we’ve likely seen more cases where leaders chose a different path, a path of condescension, negativity, and punishment instead. And at the end of the day, which is more effective? I dare say by taking this particular tack, Tonya both lessened the likelihood of a similar mistake being made in the future and built good will, loyalty, and engagement.
Now that’s an example of leadership!