When You Are Wrong

When you are wrong

School Leaders – Do You Know When You Are Wrong?

Is it time to apologize?

Recently, I wrote about how people often move to silence or violence in crucial conversations, especially when discussing accountability.

What is your default (silence or violence) when you see that you aren’t making much progress in an important conversation?  Mine is violence.  I go for the jugular.

So here is an embarrassing story of when I had to apologize.

At a school I worked at the English department chair had the only access to the books for the rest of the department.  The book room was housed in her classroom.  In most schools this would not be a problem.  However, this quickly becomes a problem when the department chair was often absent from work, locking the book room and locking out the teachers that needed books to use with their kids.  If this happened only once in a while it wouldn’t be a big deal, but this was a consistent pattern

… and I had an idea … to get a key to the book room.

Once I had identified the said pattern of absence, my colleagues would come to me to open the book room.  That’s it, I’d let my colleagues in to get their books and locked the room once all the necessary materials were gathered.  No big deal right?

Wrong answer.

When You Are Wrong

I forgot to mention that the department chair was also the union delegate for our school. This also shouldn’t have been a problem since I was an active member of the union, but since hindsight is always 20/20, I now realize that I hadn’t developed a close relationship with department chair and therefore trust was absent from our relationship.

I thought this would be a perfect time to test the crucial conversation skills I had been reading about.  And so we had a meeting.  I started with my heart (it was in a good place) and tried to state my purpose.  I wanted to discuss my frustration that kids and teachers did not have access to books when she was absent and that I would like to keep the key I had to her room and the book room to make resources available when the she was absent.

The main points she wanted to get across was that 1) she didn’t know I had a key and that felt like a violation of trust and a violation of her “territory,” and 2) important union materials were in her room and she didn’t want them tampered with.

Silence or Violence?

Upon reflection, I can see that I moved to violence as she moved to silence.  I know I was too proud and/or frustrated to hear her.  The conversation about access to the book room quickly broke down and ended with me looking my peer in the eyes and while holding the key in her face directly stating, “there is nothing you can ever do to make me give back this key.”

Ouch.  Ugly right?

I handled that very poorly.

I was the wrong man singing the wrong song.

School Leaders Apologize When They’re Wrong

I had done harm to our relationship and to this day I don’t know think it is fully repaired.  However, my conscience told me that I had done wrong and the next day I told myself that I would apologize to her if I happened to see her in the hall leaving school.

It just so happened that she was leaving just as I had that thought that I needed to apologize and apologize I did.  School leaders apologize when they’re wrong.

I shared how I gave up the key to the room and that my goal was to provide access to the resources in the book room.  I apologized for trespassing her space, but more importantly, for treating her without compassion. She gracefully accepted my apology and I am very thankful for that.

I am happy that I was able to swallow my pride and admit when I was wrong.  This was years ago, so I also have been doing a ton of work on myself to make sure that incidents like this are a rare occurrence.  I had told myself a story about my peer … that she was lazy or didn’t care about the kids, hence all the absences.  With this viewpoint of my peer, I was destined to fail in coming to an agreement with her that would allow teachers to have regular access to the book room.

When You’re Wrong

I have been in a number of situations where school leaders clearly did wrong, but never owned up to there mistakes.  This always puts a bad taste in the organization’s collective mouths.  Don’t do it.  Own up to your mistakes and you just may salvage the influence you have in your respective organization.  It’s the right thing to do.

The Bible has an interesting story about forgiveness.

In Matthew 5:23-24 Jesus teaches the importance of apologizing when you are wrong.  Essentially, he tells anyone at a church service that has a grievance with someone to leave the service in order to be reconciled.  Living in peace and being reconciled to one another is so important, Jesus tells people to leave church to seek forgiveness!

School leaders do you need to drop what you are doing right now to go and be reconciled?

Daniel E. Bauer

Daniel E. Bauer



Skype: betterleadersbetterschools

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Email: daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com

I teach leadership skills through a data-driven and emotionally healthy approach that gets others to perform their best.

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