I once made my Dad so mad that even though I was calling him long distance, he hung up on me.
I don’t take delight in this. In fact, if anything, I’m kind of proud that I only screwed up that bad only once. While I seem to recall committing some of great moments of mental errors during my teen years, I’m guessing that my Dad showed a lot of patience internally.
Here’s how it went down. I was a freshmen in college and having the time of my life. Too bad stupid things like studying and classes had to get in the way. I was on my Dad’s version of academic probation for bad grades. Dad kept track of every test I had, what I was supposed to be studying, and kept in touch every week. One particular test had come along and I had gotten a “D”.
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I got my grade back on Thursday and, had I made a “B” or better, I would have called to brag. Since I did not get a good grade, I did not immediately call. Instead, I waited until my usual Sunday call home. The whole weekend was agony. To make it tougher on myself, I waited until the end of the day. The whole time I waited, I was terrified. Please note that my college was two hours away from my parent’s house, so it was not like I was actually in physical danger but it sure seemed like it.
Because it was Sunday, I knew that my Dad would be watching our favorite football team in action. Calling on Sunday morning wasn’t an option because my Dad – The Deacon – was at church. I also knew better than to call during the game because he’d know something was up. Game time came and our team took an early lead. I cleverly thought that if I waited until our team won, Dad would be in a little more cordial mood. Turns out our favorite team lost that day, badly. Hindsight tells me that this was the first sign of the upcoming apocalypse.
I finally summoned the courage to pick up the phone and dial home. Thankfully, my Mom answered. This gave me a chance to gauge to mood of the house and it seemed like everything was perfectly calm – a good starting point. After a significant amount of stalling on my part, it was time to break the news of my grade. Dad got on the phone and I attempted to bring up the game saying, “That’s too bad about our team.” This was my feeble attempt to remind him that his only son is really on his side. He didn’t want to hear any of it. He went straight to the test. “How did you do?” was his response.
No sooner had the words “UM, well…” left my lips when he knew the answer. I immediately began to get a lecture about how much he was paying for college (which I still don’t bring up) and how much fun I must be having at college (too much).
When Dad stopped talking, I began to tell him all of the glorious things I was going to do to make it better. He seemed to be listening, or silently planning my demise. The sudden sound of a dial tone let me know that he had hung up before I ever started talking. He never even heard the first sentence of my grand plan.
I realized that I was in a public place (my dorm’s hallway) talking into a phone with no one on the other end. I stood there in disbelief, feeling the shock of the situation and the joy of knowing the reality of the situation was better than I feared. Actual punishment is never as bad as the fear of punishment.
About a half-hour later, my Mom called. When I heard her voice I thought she was calling to comfort me. I mean, my Dad hung up the phone on me! No, she called to tell me how stupid it was of me to wait until after the football game was over to break bad news. Not that I was stupid, just the action I took. There’s a big difference.
Here is the point of what I want to get across to you: Whenever you have news, whether it be good or bad, own it. Commit to it. If truth be told, you need to own bad news better than you own good news.
My Dad knew there was bad news because I didn’t immediately call on Thursday. In your career, a good boss will begin to notice your tendencies. Do you bang the drum loudly for your successes and cower away to hide failures? If so, when you’re M.I.A., they’ll know when there is bad news. You can get away with passing the buck once or twice, but your co-workers will start know your nefarious intentions and will preempt your attempts at blame. This is an antagonistic relationship that you will ultimately lose.
If you make a mistake, own it. It’s the only way to get the situation handled correctly. When emergencies happen, companies that are slow to respond are vilified in the public eye. Exxon, BP and Tylenol are all case studies in how not to handle a bad situation. The same is true in your career. When a bad situation comes your way, acknowledge it, make a plan to resolve it, and implement your plan.