Randy Speck

Superintendent , Madison District Public Schools

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Why is it sometimes difficult to admit mistakes and say "I'm sorry"?

Admitting a mistake and then taking responsibility for it is not always easy and is sometimes not found in leadership. Why is that?

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    Feb 24 2012: Hi Randy.
    I think it depends on the person. From my experience I'd say some don't want to say they are sorry due to ego. Underneath the ego is the core issue though. Is it fear of looking stupid? Fear of not being respected? Fear of not being accepted?

    Depending on the situation it could also mean fear of losing your job, relationship or position...or power/control. I think on a very simple, basic level people want to feel heard, appreciated and if they admit a mistake then they are somehow flawed, 'wrong', or 'bad'.

    I believe 'mistakes' are only mistakes if you don't learn from them...if you learn something then they are lessons, examples, opportunities, chances, and gifts. Perhaps not the most comfortable kind, but they are a path to learning and growing.

    If you are being true and authentic to yourSELF, then you will know what is best...saying sorry doesn't necessarily mean you lost and they won or you are wrong and they are right...it just means you are making yourself accountable for the actions that you deem worthy of an apology. That takes courage and insight.

    That's my humble answer to your great question!
    With a smile,
  • Feb 23 2012: I notice that the more I argue a fact, the less I want to back down. Personally, I think once we see the effort go into a debate we want to see our way come out on top. It's a pretty simple idea, but I don't think people like seeing their work going into something without an outcome in their favour. It may also be down simply to pride. People probably think that by backing out of an argument they lose some credibility, and I suppose this is probably how giving up is generally regarded. I think it's nice to reach more of a compromise in an argument personally.
  • Mar 7 2012: Pride. Guilt. Shame.

    Pride. Nobody wants to lose their dignity even though they don't really lose it. They fear the feeling of proving they're wrong because of the feeling that they get diminished.

    Guilt. I'd like to believe people are good and so the idea that they have wronged someone makes them feel bad-- bad enough to try to avoid the person and not apologize. It's very counter-productive but I guess sometimes it just works that way.

    Shame. Because people are somehow innately guided towards that self-survival instinct of theirs they refuse to display their vulnerability which shame brings.
  • Mar 6 2012: Guilt and pride. No one likes the feeling of vulnerability,but at times like these it is completely necessary.
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    Mar 5 2012: Lack of humility.

    It is the same reasons spouses do not apologize to one another.

    Also, it is the same reason parents will not thell their children, "you were right" "I was wrong".

    How wonderful to be humble and admit mistakes.

    It is wonderful to read autobiographies of famous people who freely express and relate big mistakes they have made, and even little ones.

    Randy, as a teacher, I will tell you that I had the good fortune of working with an administrator who freely admittled when she didn't know what to do, and even changed policies because she realized she was wrong and the teachers were correct.

    But, many times, those who really "don't know what they are doing to begin with" have a hard, hard time admitting to their mistakes, because then they would have to come clean about the fact that they made a mistake due to lack of knowledge, etc.......

    Bottom line: Humility, or actually the "lack" of it is basically the reason they don't say "I'm sorry".

    This of course is my opinion......there are several answers to your question, since it depends how the individual made the mistake to begin with. (Sometimes the person makes the "so called mistake" on purpose, sometimes it is an honest mistake in judgment)
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    Mar 5 2012: It puts us in a vulnerable position. We want to be right, accepted and appear competent and certain. Ego fears being in a vulnerable position, however, I do think with time comes wisdom and a confidence in self that surpasses the need to be "right". Personally, to admit my mistakes and offer apologies is a gift I can give myself as well as to the person on the receiving end. We are all better off with a bit of humility and self reflection, and in the end it is these characteristics that allow us to let go of fear and defensive nature and be our authentic selves.
  • Mar 4 2012: Everyone has a certain amout of self dignity. When you say "sorry" to someone that you think is of lesser status of you, it makes you feel socially downgraded. Also, everyone's got a bit of pride. Its hard to swallow your pride and to admit that you were wrong. No one likes to admit they are wrong. Too stubborn.
  • Feb 29 2012: Admitting mistakes and taking ownership for them, as well as saying sorry is no easy task. Sorry serves an interesting purpose as it makes the individual that is giving the apology feel vulnerable. I think that we tend to over analyze situations like a chess game before we approach an individual to say sorry. Our minds become filled with the many different scenarios that could play out between us and the other individual after we utter the words "I'm Sorry." We wonder whether they will accept our apology completely, give us the cold shoulder, or make us feel insecure in some other way. As a result, I think we tend to find comfort in rationalizing, as well as justifying our mistakes. It's unfortunate that this occurs often in positions of leadership, but I think that has to do with the fact that a leader of a team, business, etc..often holds the mentality that feeling the vulnerability that comes from saying sorry is a sign of weakness
  • Feb 22 2012: Sometimes because we are human and we don't like or want to admit that fact.
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      Feb 22 2012: Micheal,

      It may be just as simple as that. Thanks for the comment.

  • Feb 22 2012: Hybris.
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      Feb 22 2012: Daniel,

      Arrogance and hubris play a huge role in this. Thanks for contributing.