Admit Your Mistakes: The Sorry Tale of the Burnt Underpants

Expensive Underwear

Expensive Underwear

About 3 weeks ago we attended a dinner party. The hosts are brilliant cooks – so that’s always something to look forward to.  There was sufficient lubrication – in the form of exotic cocktails – to get the party started. And the people attending know each other well enough to by-pass the small talk which typifies (‘dullifies’?) business networking events.

Truth Serum:  Mid way through the oven-roasted goose, someone suggested the following. We each had to tell an anecdote about our “most embarrassing moment.” Following liberal doses of Truth Serum (erroneously labeled as ‘red wine’) the stories were great, including one very conservative couple getting caught having sex in a graveyard (What a stupid thing to do! Have they never seen a Dracula movie? Everyone knows that he hangs out in cemeteries nearly all of the time). My own story falls into the stupid rather than risqué category:

Napa Valley:  Consulting is a fashion business and we have to keep up with ‘trends’.  At the time this story took place, the hot topic in consulting was customer service.  I’d published a book on this and had picked up a couple of international jobs on the back of it. One gig was to run a week-long customer engagement programme in Napa Valley, California for a pharmaceutical company. Easy peasy.

Missing Boxers: Mid-week I discovered that I’d only packed 3 pairs of boxers. No problem. A quick rinse and all wardrobe deficits would be sorted. Washing completed, I looked around the small apartment for a radiator to dry the shorts. No dice; the place was fitted with underfloor heating throughout.  What to do? The kitchen had a small oven. Being a highly intelligent and innovative guy, I placed the underpants into the oven on a very low setting. They’d dry while I took a shower. Yes, despite sexist assertions to the contrary, men multitask all the time.  I got carried away singing & conditioning until an overpowering smell of burning forced me to run from the bathroom like Usain Bolt with added suds. The kitchen was full of toxic black smoke. The oven itself was a war zone; the elastic waistbands in the boxers had melted and dripped down onto the trays below, like some form of Alien Spaghetti. I looked at my watch. Dinner was in 11 minutes (in America, you’re expected to show up on time). That night I had the only Commando dinner that I can recall since early childhood.

Remote Location: The place we were working in was very remote. The next day I had to get one of the waiters in the hotel to drive 40 miles to a store and purchase new gear. It cost me exactly $100 ($20 for the boxers; $10 for gas; $70  to bribe the guy to sing dumb).

I’m Sorry: Contrast the above with an internal ‘investigation’ I was involved in. A serious error of judgement was made by an executive. He was smart, hardworking, good with people and so on. But he simply could not bring himself to admit that he’d made a wrong call. He put all his energy into coming up with 1,736 excuses to explain why an event occurred – none of which related to him in any way. And, he was fired – essentially because he was too stubborn to apologise. Now, defensiveness plays a positive role. It allows us to function and is a central part of human psychology. Like those big rubber bands around Dodgem Cars (the ‘bumpers’), defensiveness allows us to bounce back from a mini-crisis.   However, being clad in Rhinoceros skin is an over-compensation and is actually dysfunctional. You don’t get it right all the time and don’t need to pretend that you do. It’s not credible.

To my knowledge the last ‘perfect’ guy was Clark Kent. Assuming that you are not Superman (or Superwoman) you’re quite likely to do a few stupid things in an otherwise smart and successful career.  When you admit a mistake you demonstrate your humanness.  James Joyce reminded us that “Mistakes are the portals of discovery”.  While there may be some upper limit to the amount of mistakes which are acceptable, you need to overcome that addiction to perfection and join the rest of the gang. We are all ‘flawed diamonds’, imperfect specimens. Somehow, it’s comforting to know that.


PS Lighter Note: What is Celibacy?
(courtesy of Sean O’Connel).

Celibacy can be a choice in life or a condition imposed by circumstances. While attending a Marriage Encounter Weekend, 
my wife and I, listened to the instructor who said:  “It’s essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other.” He then addressed the men:  “Can you name and describe your wife’s favourite flower?”

I leaned over, touched my wife’s hand gently and whispered, “Self-raising, isn’t it?” 

And thus began my life of celibacy…

Editors Note: I try to ‘balance’ these sexist jokes by alternatively slagging women and men. That’s  my ‘get out of jail card’.

PPS: Ever get annoyed by Conference Calls?  Have a look at the attached funny video (courtesy of John Conway).

Know someone who’d benefit from this blog? Ask them to email and we’ll add them to the list. Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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