By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute

In the last issue of The Catholic Leader, we offered eight tips for building trust in the workplace. The eighth one was "demonstrate competence." Under that rubric we wrote:

"People with real expertise inspire trust and exercise influence whether they want to or not. Learn your craft. Master your craft. Then be willing to share what you know without "Lording over others." Becoming a master is not about showing off or feeding your ego; it's about serving your mission. If that's your inspiration, people will gravitate to you and trust you to help them excel too. When they give you those opportunities, proceed with a servant's heart."

If we could add a ninth tip now, it would be: acknowledge your errors and your ignorance.

If that sounds like we're contradicting ourselves, read on.

One of my more vivid memories of Catholic grade school was a young sister writing on the blackboard. Preoccupied with presenting the day's lesson to a group of unruly children, she misspelled one of the words she wrote. When it happened, we were only too eager to correct her. Flustered, she turned to the class and said, "I did that on purpose just to see if you were paying attention."

We all laughed out loud, even the "teacher's pets" who never did anything wrong. She might have been telling the truth, but we didn't believe her. We took it as the first time we had seen a woman religious distort the truth in a self-serving manner. And we never trusted or respected her quite as much after that.

  • Rudyard Kipling had good advice. He suggested: "Own up, put up, shut up."
  • Ken Blanchard makes the salient point: "The longer you wait to apologize, the sooner a weakness will be perceived as a wickedness."

The critical issue is trust. Yes, the more competent you are at the things that matter, the more likely people will trust you. But no one knows everything. And to pretend that you do fosters mistrust on the part of those around you. Also, everyone makes mistakes — and everyone can learn from them. But first they have to be acknowledged.

Some people insist that leaders should never admit a mistake or shortcoming because it weakens their authority. That's baloney! Others know when you've made a mistake or need help. And they're actually reassured when you know it too and are willing to say so.

They will come to respect and trust you more as they realize that you are able to recognize your own shortcomings and you are committed to constant learning. Your behavior also provides a model for them to be more honest and forthcoming when they've made a mistake or need help. That kind of accurate feedback is essential to sustained excellence and constant improvement.

But you won't get it if you don't model it.

Copyright © 2011 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site:

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