Julie Thorson

I forgot. I missed that. I made a mistake. I was wrong. I let my emotions get the best of me. I reacted too quickly. I was short. I jumped to conclusions. 

Have you ever had a thought like the above? What’s that? You have had more than one? You are not alone. This week (and it’s only Wednesday), I have had them all.

This may be one of the most difficult blogs I’ve written, not only because I’m up against my deadline (my own fault) but because I’m about to get really vulnerable. 

The fear of admitting inadequacies, not only admitting but documenting, has me a bit terrified. Regardless, I think this also may be one of the most valuable leadership lessons for myself and others. I need to muster up the courage to share. My hope is somebody can relate. 

The belief that leaders never make mistakes is a lie. If you are a leader who believes you never make mistakes get your head out of the sand. You are doing a disservice to yourself and your team. 

We all make mistakes. We all forget. There are times when we are not perfect. We are in the roles we are in because we do good work. We are also often our own worst critics and we beat ourselves up way too much. 

Please understand that I believe there is a difference between intentional mistakes, honest mistakes and poor performance. What I am focusing on today are honest mistakes. 

Let me explain. This week I totally forgot to do something. I could offer 100 reasons why, but bottom line is I forgot to do something. Excuses and justification would have only been for me, not for my teammate. Selfish. The consequences of my forgetfulness could have really hurt a teammate’s feelings. 

I recognized my error late yesterday afternoon, after another teammate asked. I beat myself up for a good amount of time, longer than I probably should have. But I needed to quickly recover because there isn’t time to wallow in self-pity. 

I could have sent a quick email to apologize. I could have sent a text. I could have done nothing and just hoped the teammate would not make a big deal about it. Years ago, I would have done one of those three things. 

Today, however, I sought the teammate out and apologized in person. Of course, she was gracious and thanked me for the apology, but the shame I felt for making such a dumb mistake is still lingering. I am grateful we already have a relationship built on trust, and her immediate reaction wasn’t to get angry. There was curiosity but not anger. I am grateful for that foundation, but to me, it’s still a mistake. Does this mean I am an ineffective leader? Perhaps?

I’m sure there are some who say that is true. I don’t believe so. I cannot, we cannot, dwell on our imperfections. We are doing too many good things to let the honest mistakes hold us down. We are supposed to model the way as leaders; being real and owning up to the fact that we can do better is necessary. 

Holding ourselves accountable for our mistakes and acknowledging when we are wrong takes courage. That is what I believe truly grows strong leaders. Do you need to hear that again? It’s ok to make mistakes; it’s how we learn. How we recover from those mistakes is what makes us better leaders and people. 

Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently co-facilitates Leading Age Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a Leading Age Academy fellow and former coach. The Head Coach (president and CEO) of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program in 2019. 

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.