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If You Mess Up, Fess Up!

"Confession is good for the soul." – Scottish Proverb

Doesn’t that sound wonderful: "Confession is good for the soul." But how many of us really believe that concept applies to the workplace? If we confess our mistakes, won’t it make us look weak and incompetent to our Boss, our Employees and our Customers? Isn’t it a better tactic to cover up our mistakes or blame them on someone else? I got news for you bunkie: that tactic doesn’t work anymore – if it ever did! Just ask Toyota.

Still need convincing? Here are the primary reasons you need to Fess Up When You Mess Up:

1. It’s just plain wrong to not fess up when you mess up! If you are an ethical person and you want to be perceived as a person with integrity, you have to admit your mistakes and accept the consequences of those incidents.

2. Everybody knows you messed up! Who do you think you’re kidding when you attempt to cover up your mistake or blame someone else for your error? In the Information Age, everyone has access to the information necessary to determine who is responsible for the screw up. And "they" will share that information.

3. You are sending a message that erodes respect and trust! Do you really want your Employees and Boss to assess your character and leadership abilities based on your attempt to avoid accountability or perpetuate a cover up (otherwise known as "lying")? And what do your actions say to Customers about what constitutes acceptable behavior in your organization?

4. It’s the cover up that will get you! Martha Stewart didn’t do the crime but she went to prison because she attempted to cover up her unethical activities by lying to a federal official – a definite no-no. Her failure to confess/admit her wrong behavior and her attempt to cover it up cost her 5 months in a federal prison camp. What has or can your failure to fess up cost you?

5. There is potential economic value in admitting a mistake! When doctors apologize directly to patients for the harm they caused, malpractice claims and malpractice litigation costs drop by more than 50%. While I don’t know what positive economic impact admitting your mistakes could have on your relationship with your customers and your employees, I do believe not doing so is definitely having a detrimental economic impact through lost sales and Employee turnover.

The Bottom Line: Every one makes mistakes. It is how we deal with those mistakes that matters. Like the ability to delegate, admitting when we’ve made a mistake is a trademark of a good leadership skill set.

Question: What are some of the reasons to Fess Up When You Mess Up I have missed?

Paul Glover Go to for more information about Ethics & Integrity in the Time of the WorkQuake™.

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  • Brian Javeline

    This does get easier especially when it comes to customer engagement. In our case it relates to technology development and we spend a great time sharing ideas with customers BEFORE we implement them. Sometimes we goof and have unexpected consequences, but we have found that customers are completely understanding when you explain the reason behind the challenge and what you are going to do to rectify it. FESSING UP begins before the need to FESS UP, and that is all part of effective communications.
    Brian Javeline
    President & Co-founder
    2008 Dell Top 10 Innovator
    2009 Forbes America's Most Promising

  • Ashton Gebhard

    @Keen Observer... I think your point could taken seriously far easier if you refrained from injecting inflammatory descriptors into your statements like "Bush goons" and "snake oil salesman." It seems unfair to hold one person responsible for an error if most of those in journalism made the same error. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt on that since I always heard Martha Stewart had lied to officials. As to the Bush goons... I can't imagine Martha Stewart being particularly high on President Bush's list of concerns.

  • Christine Maingard

    To "Fess up when you Mess up" is about being authentic. This means, first and foremost, being totally honest with ourselves. Only then can we be honest with others. To be authentic also means that we allow ourselves to be unconcerned about how others feel about us, even when you make a mistake. We are always more respected and trusted by others when we admit mistakes, and of course, we can learn from it and move on rather than spending precious energy on covering up or being defensive about it when others find out.

    Dr Christine Maingard
    Author of "Think Less, Be More"

  • keen observer

    Martha Stewart's grossly incompetent legal representation needs to "fess up" to egregious legal malpractice and the Bush goons need to "fess up" to bogus charges that targeted her destruction for political gain. And Glover needs to "fess up" to a parasitic existence as a snake-oil salesman hawking "Ethics & Integrity" that he lacks as a liar, lying about her "lying to a federal official." Not one single word spoken by Ms. Stewart or any Bush goon was recorded in a transcript or in sworn testimony. No evidence existed of any "lying" or "cover up." She "went to prison" because of egregious legal malpractice.

    Martha Stewart did nothing wrong to "fess up" to; she had no "failure to confess/admit her wrong behavior" except in the warped, delusional thinking of a snake-oil salesman. Ms. Stewart made a personal stock sale that was perfectly legal under the securities laws for over 70 years; she owed no one any explanation for her stock sale and why she sold was nobody's business, including the Bush goons, who need to "fess up" that they framed her in a conspiracy of bogus charges and abused and misused the criminal justice system on her for politcal gain.