By sintecho • April 19, 2008•Other Career Issues
The other day, I made a mistake at work. It was the kind of mistake that my boss may or may not have ever noticed, the kind of mistake that doesn't have far-reaching consequences but is nonetheless wrong. Also important to note is that this was the kind of mistake that was already out there, and there was nothing anyone could do to change it or somehow make it less of an error. When I realized I'd made the mistake, I decided to email my boss right away and tell him what I'd done. He wrote back and acknowledged that I had indeed made a mistake but that he was glad I'd alerted him. But...was I wrong to turn myself in?
When I told some co-workers about the incident, one guy admitted he'd done the exact same thing...but hadn't alerted our boss and had never gotten called out for making the mistake. After reflecting on the different ways we'd handled the situation, I'm sure some of our different approaches can be attributed to our different personalities, but I also think gender played a role. In my experience, men--as a general rule--are less likely to publicly own up to mistakes while women are more likely to do so.
In the abstract, it is admirable that one would be honest and step up to admit wrongdoing, but in practice, can it hurt your career? For example, my boss now knows that I am fallible. I have screwed up and drawn his attention right to my error. My co-worker, on the other hand, made the exact same screw-up, but the boss never knew (that we know of). So, arguably my boss might think that my co-worker's abilities are superior to my own, even though we both did the same thing wrong. I wonder how much of professional competence is about bluster and fakery and how much an honest perspective on your own abilities and shortcomings can actually be a hinderance to moving ahead. After all, people who project competence get promoted--and perhaps projecting competence is less about actual competence and more about the appearance of said competence. Should I have twiddled my thumbs and whistled a carefree tune when I realized my error and just waited to deal with my boss when and if he came to me rather than going straight to him? I'm starting to think that the answer is yes.