When someone has a collision on a roadway, it’s often called an accident. A (retired) Police Officer and good friend once told me there are no accidents on the road. When a collision occurs, someone is making a choice that leads to the collision. When it comes to driving, there are many choices people make daily which might create the conditions for a collision to occur.

People choose to be distracted by their phones while driving. People choose to change lanes putting themselves dangerously close to the front of another vehicle. Drivers choose not to drive according to the road conditions. None of these choices are accidents.

Leaders make choices

Here in Ontario, Rod Phillips, our Finance Minister, went to St. Barts (in the Caribbean) with his family over the holidays. Our premier, Doug Ford, called him out on the inappropriateness of the trip amid a pandemic given the lockdown we’re currently in. Phillips has since resigned from his cabinet position and apologized saying that going on the trip was a mistake.

A mistake is by definition “an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgement caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.” This says to me a mistake is the result of something having happened. So, yes, the trip was a mistake, likely caused by an error in judgement on his part.

What I’m more interested in, though, are the choices made which led to the trip happening amid a pandemic. Without looking at these choices, little will change, and we will see a repeat of this type of mistake.

When the government is about to put the province into a lockdown that will undoubtedly result in people losing jobs, small businesses closing, and other hardships; perhaps a better choice, as a leader, would have been for Phillips to cancel the trip. I can only imagine how difficult such a choice would be, but that’s what leaders do. Leaders make tough choices for the sake of what’s right and what they believe.

When leaders don’t act with integrity and make the difficult choices, it calls into question everything they stand for. For example, as one of our provincial leaders, does Phillips believe going into a lockdown to keep Covid at bay is the right thing to do?

I assume that Phillips had no choice but to resign and show Leadership differently in this case. Without resigning, I could imagine many people would be asking why we, the public, should obey the lockdown rules given our leaders are not themselves. Phillips’s choice could have caused so many problems in a province that’s being hard hit by the pandemic.

Just so you don’t think I’m hanging Phillips out to dry on this matter, let me talk about our Premier, Doug Ford, for a minute. This morning I read that Doug Ford knew about the trip two weeks before it happened. Assuming this information is true, what did Ford, as Phillips’ leader, do about it? Did he hope it would happen without the public knowing? Or, did he behave like a leader and make it clear the trip is inappropriate and counsel Phillips in make a better choice? I don’t know what to believe these days, but if it’s true he knew, then Ford’s actions (or lack of action) could be another post on this matter.

Choices everywhere in our lives

  • If I publish an article with a spelling mistake, is that a mistake? Or, is it my choice to accept a less-than-perfect text because I am rushing to get it done?
  • If a Canadian moving to Florida for the winter gets Covid, is that an unfortunate accident? Or, is contracting covid the result of a choice to move into an area with higher Covid numbers?
  • If the propeller of my boat hits the bottom of a lake (I’ve done this), is that a mistake? Or, was I choosing to be in a hurry and didn’t pay sufficient attention to how close to shore I was floating?
  • If a car spins out of control on a snowy highway and goes into the ditch, is that an accident? Or, was it the result of not driving appropriately given the road conditions?

The words accident, mistake, and mishap are often used as a convenient excuse for the choices we’re unwilling to acknowledge. Acknowledging our choices and ownership of them is crucial. Otherwise, we miss the opportunity to fix the underlying cause of the resulting problem.

It was a choice, not a mistake

If Phillips had cancelled his vacation, then promoted his action for the sake of PR, I would have thought he was behaving like a political leader. Sure, the PR part could be seen as self-serving, but I could have moved past that a lot easier than ‘it was a mistake.’

There are no mistakes in Leadership

Being a leader does not mean you’re going to be perfect. You’re going to do things that you or others don’t approve of. When you make a mistake, start by apologizing when you’ve caused a problem for others. Talk about how you now see it for what it is and how your choices didn’t create a desirable outcome.

Finally, put your words into action.

Look at the choices which led to the mistake. When you can see the impact of your choices and why you chose like you did, you build your awareness which will help improve your choices the next time. In this type of problem-solving thinking, you will create the opportunity to avoid such mistakes in the future.

When the mistake has caused creditability problems as a leader, ask your followers how you might rebuild your credibility as their leader. It might be booking several one-on-one conversations to help you understand the perspective of those you lead. It might be asking your team to help your leadership by pointing out such emerging problems in the future.

Choosing to lead

Leadership means you will be constantly making choices. It’s what makes you a leader.

You’ve got this.

Executive & Leadership Coach, Blogger, and author of Activate your Leadership

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