Lessons in Leadership: Admit When You Are Wrong


No one likes to be wrong. It is almost programmed into our human nature to want to be right. Have you ever continued arguing about something and defending your point, even though you are wrong? I know I have. I will stick to my guns no matter what — just because I don’t want to admit I was wrong.

This is not a good quality to have. If I think about all the leaders I admire — Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Aung San Suu Kyi — they were not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. But I also have a feeling they were not afraid to admit when they were wrong.

Leadership Lesson: Take Ownership

In his book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie explains how we can save ourselves a lot of trouble if we just admit fault when we are wrong. “If we know we are going to be rebuked anyhow, isn’t it far better to beat the other person to it and do it ourselves? Isn’t it much easier to listen to self-criticism than to bear condemnation from alien lips?”

He continues that if we take ownership for our mistakes then chances are the opposing party will be more forgiving. For example if you are speeding on the highway and you get pulled over. The police officer walks up and you immediately start defending yourself. “I was in a hurry.” “I didn’t realize how fast I was going.” “Someone was driving aggressively behind be.” There are a million excuses, but chances are they will not get you out of a ticket.

Instead, try owning your mistake. “I know I was going too fast. I am sorry and I could have put my life as well as others lives in danger. There is a speed limit for a reason and I should follow it.” This might not get you out of a ticket, because in the end you were breaking the law. But it will not put the officer on the defensive.

“When we are right, let’s try to win people gently and tactfully to our way of thinking, and when we are wrong — and that will be surprisingly often, if we are honest with ourselves — let’s admit our mistakes quickly and with enthusiasm. Not only will that technique produce astonishing results; but, believe it or not, it is a lot more fun, under the circumstances, than trying to defend oneself.”

So next time you make a mistake or are in an argument and know you are wrong, don’t be afraid to take ownership. It will go a long way.

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.


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    April 26, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    Great article. Dale Carnegie Principle #12: “If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.”

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    May 23, 2017 at 9:11 pm

    I liked it

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