We are never far away from our next mistake. Over the years I have learnt one crucial thing. How you deal with a mistake – rather than the mistake itself – is the most important element of school leadership. Confronting and problem solving is a massive part of what a parent or school leader need to do. Yet, this is not a natural process. In fact, many of us spend much of our private life trying to avoid conflict, embarrassment and emotional pain.
The problem is, especially in school leadership, it is very hard to be right most of the time. As leaders, we have to face our mistakes, face difficulties, and live through them. How else could we develop an understanding of what we have done, and how to avoid similar issues in the future?
Therefore, we need to learn a few simple words: I am sorry.
This approach of simply saying sorry is something I would love to see more of in parenting and education alike. Though the most important element of making a mistake is moving on; great leadership still knows when to say “I am sorry”, and really mean it. After all, it is only through an apology that we often find common ground and a will to change.
Of course, apologising for a genuine mistake is easier than apologising for a perceived one. Therefore, when we apologise, our personal perception of what we are doing is vital. If we believe we are doing the right things and others disagree, then saying a genuine sorry is almost impossible. The problem is that we must first admit that we made a mistake.
Saying sorry is hard, but admitting you were wrong can be even harder. Saying sorry means you admit you are wrong; that you had not foreseen one of the many implications your decision has brought about.
But why scared to say “sorry”?
In today’s society (where public shaming is not too far away) admitting mistakes is harder than ever. This is especially true of social media where a flock of opinions can descend in to frenzy in moments and control is taken away. There is a sense of terror when facing up to our mistakes. Therefore, the challenge is often – how do we admit we are wrong and say “sorry” whilst keeping our dignity and staying focused upon our core purpose?
Be empathetic, say sorry, and mean it.
It is scary how quickly one mistake can snowball into a wall of collective outrage where ‘sorry’ is just another wound to tear at. If only we showed more empathy as we vent our so called justified outrage.
I have said sorry many times as a teacher, because I have made many mistakes. Every time I have said sorry and on every occasion I have meant it.
I have also been urged, told and ordered to say sorry when I believed I did not need to. This is the hardest thing to do and on a few occasions I have refused.
This involved much soul searching and planning. I try to work out if saying sorry – even when believing I am right – is the best way forward. It is through the mantle of the leader we do this.
If it saves me hours, gets the job done and it is only my pride that has taken a beating…then on occasion I will do this. Despite what I may believe deep down.
In leadership we serve others, not ourselves and being strategic is often about using whatever resources you have to get the job done. I have found that saying sorry is one of the most powerful means to do this.
Danay Bouzala, Director of Drama