One of the great myths in coaching/leadership is that being wrong is a sign of weakness. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The challenge is, in a world where competition is so powerful, it’s almost natural to see things strictly through the lenses of win or lose; strength or weakness. If that were the only option, it would follow that if I’m wrong, I’m weak. Pretty harsh, so let’s not buy into it yet.
Let’s look at a story of how being wrong led to success. Gary Patterson, head coach at TCU, used to have a deliberate approach to running an offense. It worked well for years. In fact, TCU made it to the Rose Bowl in 2011 and won.
That win paved the way a couple of years later for TCU to make the leap to the Big 12 to play with the big boys. Coach P’s deliberate approach to offense that had worked so well in the past was a disaster in the new era. The team went 2-7 in their conference debut. What had been right in the past became really wrong.
Let’s pause the story for a minute and consider – if I see life as a competition, what is my response to being wrong? I’m likely to experience denial, rationalization and often disbelief (must be some mistake, I’ll just try again.) I may begin to act as though my identity, my character is tied to being wrong. It becomes personal. Think of a time when someone told you – “you’re doing it wrong.” Was your first response to be curious or was your response like mine – justify my actions, blame some outside influence and make excuses? Getting hooked by “I can’t be the one who’s wrong!” is a gargantuan waste of time and energy.
GP didn’t get wrapped up in the right and wrongness. He got curious, assessed the situation, hired new fast-paced-offense coaches and handed offensive responsibility over to them – a coaching act of faith. TCU went 12 – 1 (8-1) the next year.
Let’s go back to the myth: being wrong is a sign of weakness. If I worry about how I am seen, that in itself becomes the problem. I waste time focusing on looking good instead of addressing what is not working. Tip of the hat to Gary Patterson. He didn’t go there.
The lesson is to choose curiosity over defensiveness and judgment. Being wrong is not a failing – it’s a failure and our job is to recover.