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Six Leadership Lessons from a Crappy Situation

The oddest thing happened to me today.


I was accused of plagiarism.


Me. The daughter of an author and an author myself.


Accused of plagiarism.


And the oddest part is that the person accused me of plagiarizing… myself.


The long story short is, an article I wrote was picked up by a sister component of my day-job and they asked if they could publish the article. I said, “Sure,” and forwarded the request to our comms team for approval. The comms team had a few details they wanted to address, and they brought in a few other folks.


One of these other folks, upon being introduced to the idea responded to everyone with a note that said, “FYI – It looks like Sarah may have plagiarized the entire article,” and supplied a link to a separate article. His link pointed to another article that I also authored.


I was furious. How could someone on a communications team fail to do the first ethical, responsible, and human thing of reaching out to me first and saying, “Hey there – these articles are pretty similar. Did you write both?”


He also didn’t privately reach out to his supervisor with his concern, or even to mine. He responded to eight people with his “concern.” And, when I responded and confronted the allegation, he responded with, “Thanks for the info and apologies.”


Bro. That's not an apology.


So why am I telling you this story? Well, because I think there are six leadership lessons to take away starting with the #1 thing which is that you cannot claim to be a leader if you don’t love the people you lead. At a minimum, you have to at least like them and if this guy had any respect for me, or really for his team, he wouldn't have behaved that way. That's the truth.


Number two is that one of the primary rules of communication is to listen to understand. That means, first, ask questions. This leads me to lesson number three…


Good leaders are curious.


In fact, Success magazine went so far as to say that the number one trait of a good leader is curiosity. This guy — if he was curious — would have immediately reached out to me to say, “Hey Sarah, I’m curious about this article. Can we chat for a sec?”


The fourth leadership lesson/reminder is that a good leader errs on the side of believing the best about her team, not the worst. This really ties back to the first lesson. Love your team. Believe the best about them (and see how they rise to that belief and standard).


Number five and six are big ones:

  • Admit when you are wrong. I don’t know why adults have such a hard time with this because it’s really easy. It can be liberating, too. This is how you do it: I’m sorry. I was wrong. A person who cannot admit error cannot lead. This is the reason why: if you can’t admit when you’re wrong, then you can’t really learn a lesson. And if you’re not learning, you’re not improving. And if you’re not improving, then you’re not moving forward. If you’re not moving forward, how can anyone follow you? And, if no one is following you, you are not a leader.

  • Ask what you can do to make things better. Simple, “I’m sorry I did that. It was wrong. What can I do to make things better?” That shows humility, integrity, and honor.


Has this sort of thing ever happened to you? I’d love to hear your story! Drop me a line in the comments or send me a message to sarah@leadingladies.co and share your story of when someone called you out or blamed you for something you didn’t do. How did you recover? What did you do? Did you stand up for yourself? Share!

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