It was a fuck-up.

When I work with leaders and their companies, I hear a lot of people talk about “pivots,” “setbacks,” “one person or circumstance made us do it”, and other wishy-washy explanations for failure.

No, it was a fuck-up.

Just own it.

You made a wrong decision?

You didn’t hit the goals? 

The product launch was a flop? 

Choice of location was a mistake?

The product/event turned out to be a bad idea? 

No one showed up to the event? 

Your assessment was out of sync? 

You were angry, got carried away, and all went to hell?  

Own it. 

You can’t erase what happened.

But by owning up to your / your team’s / your organization’s failures, you accomplish three things: 

  1. You demonstrate that you’re real, credible, and therefore trustworthy.
  2. You demonstrate that failures happen, but in a great environment, they’re opportunities for true learning.
  3. Your vulnerability in admitting a fuck-up inspires people to rally around you.

All the energy and time spent making shit up to justify the not-failure-but-failure can now be spent on actually figuring it out.

Just think how many times in the past you’ve sat in a room with people, painstakingly putting together narratives to explain, rationalize something away, and yet, you walked away not feeling necessarily better or cleared.  

Too many people claim leadership, because of the positions they occupy, but they’re often everything but. An acquaintance of mine calls it, “leadershit”. 

You cannot be a leader, much less a great one, if you lack the capacity to own up to the truth–good, bad, and the ugly. Not rising up to the occasion comes at a price. 

The truth and the moon cannot be hidden. 

Even if the failure was rationalized away and everyone has moved on, your subconscious (hell, your God) remembers. 

So the next time there’s another opportunity to stand tall, it’ll be even harder. The brain has learned to take the path of least resistance–even when it’s the wrong path–and reversing from that trajectory will only be that harder. 

Nothing to say of the negative consequences for everyone involved. 

Think of all the examples of leadership failures — from Nixon to Enron to, well, today — and how often the leaders who covered things up once could no longer stop repeating the same behavior. 

Your work may not be on the scale of presidential politics or multinational corporations, but the principle is the same. 

If it was a fuck up, it was a fuck up — own it, fix it if you can, learn from it, and then move on. Do better next time. 

If you own up to things, there will likely be the next time. If you don’t, well, just ask Nixon. 

This is also true in our personal relationships. 

Truth doesn’t change because we wish it or have a good story to rationalize it. 

Truth is the truth. You can use it to your advantage or hide behind it. The latter, however, comes with a much bigger price to you and those around you. 

Own it!