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aaron g

I have one bone to pick about this rule. In command and control organizations a person who admits a mistake leaves themselves vulnerable to attack. Superiors and peers are seeking reasons why a person shouldn't be promoted over another and the admission of guilt creates easy evidence that the person is not competent. In situations where a hierarchy is involved, I might be cautious using this. After all, how often do we see politicians admitting mistakes. However, the rule is really great to connect with people, when the admission is accurate.


Carolyn's rule applies to companies as well. Very few companies follow this rule.

Its hard for a manager to apply Carolyn's rule if the company punishes internally those managers.

@David Deseran --
"Everyone loves to find mistakes that others have made, especially if it is from a superior"

Speak for yourself. I don't and I do my best to stop such blame finding no matter the direction of the blame finger. Here is a blog post about my feelings in this regard:

Bob Sutton


You have a point about superiors at times (although I think you miss the point about fear, some bosses bring up mistakes in ways that are meant to intimidate while others bring them up in a way that promotes safety and learning, a lot of research suggests there are profound effects of the two styles. The rule is really striking when it comes to boss's mistakes. To apply Carolyn's rule, I think of one boss I know of a small organization, perhaps 50 people, a person I have known for over 20 years, I have never, not even once, heard her admit a mistake in public or private to anyone. In contrast, I did an interview yesterday with the leader of a large and creative company, who was key in building it from the ground up. In the first 20 minutes, although we were total strangers, he had raised five big mistakes he had made... the difference was just staggering and goes a long way to explain why the leader of the small organization is widely despised and viewed as out of touch with reality, while the leader of the large creative firm is one of the most well-loved bosses I have ever met. Sorry, I can't use names here... but I assure you these are real cases.

David Deseran

Carolyn's Rule:
You can determine someone’s character by
1)how quickly they realize they’ve made a mistake
2)how readily they admit it.
I have found that people rarely catch their own mistakes. A mistake is often brought to a person's attention by another, and by then admitting the mistake is a moot point. Everyone loves to find mistakes that others have made, especially if it is from a superior. I would suggest that it is not merely taking responsibility for one's mistake that defines a person's character, but how they turn that mistake into a success. Jenn Weible's comment on this topic covers this quite nicely. The employee didn't catch the mistake, didn't have to admit to it (because it was obviously her's) but took the initiative to contact her client and correct the issue thereby furthering her relationship with her client and making her boss proud. Mistakes happen... we're only human. But what will you do with your mistake? I visited this blog by mistake, but I took advantage of that mistake by adding it to my bookmarks page.


I think that Carolyn has it to a T with her rule! People who can see that they have made a mistake and can acknowledge it are people that you would normally expect to be more mature, forthright, honorable and humble. These are all aspects of what in my opinion would lead one to expect that certain people have good or positive character.
Furthermore, I think that it is appropriate to go a little bit further and say that not only would that honesty be a great characteristic of a good boss but it is also a wonderful trait for an employee or anyone for that matter. As an employee I would want a boss that could admit human fault of sometimes being wrong, just as if I were the boss I would want my employees to be honest enough to own up to their mistakes because it is a real example of that persons integrity.


Carolyn's Rule is great and also effective and relative to all relationships. I completely agree that the ability to admit your mistakes is significant, especially in the role of a boss. It shows a lot about you as a person and allows for trusting relationships between you and your bosses, coworkers and/or employees.

It's nice seeing the importance on character and how that affects relationships and potentially performance. Thanks for the post!


I love this rule, but...

As some of the other commenters have touched upon, you can only live by it if those around you value it too. All too often I have found myself castigated for admitting my mistakes: if you aren't safe, you can't own up :/

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I think this rule needs an importantly qualification, which can be captured by restating it: You can determine a person's character by the accuracy with which they admit their mistakes. 2945abc45 0301


That is a really telling rule. Nothing is more
eye-opening then being in the room when someone, especially a superior, passes the buck and you know it.

It makes you wonder if someone is willing to lie to your face, what are they saying when you're not around? The higher the position, the more refreshing admitting to mistakes is because typically the stakes are that much higher.

Amber Little

This a good one! So very true.

Brandon Jones

Carolyn's rule is great! I have worked in some situations where the boss would never admit they were wrong. What they would do instead was they would say that they changed their mind. They would take the idea that my coworkers or I had originally suggested and say that it was their new idea, thus taking all the credit while not admitting any mistake in the first place. Thanks, Brandon

Mike Zuehlsdorff

I think this is one of many rules people should acknowledge and adhere to in life and in the professional atmosphere. To err is human. Not only should people acknowledge their mistake, but they should want to learn from it and fix it promptly. I think what truly matters are what you do after the mistake. People will always make mistakes, but they should embrace them and learn from them.

Anthony Marcin

This is great! But I wished employers would embrace this more by letting employees know it is ok to make a mistake, own it, learn from it and move on.


I think this rule needs an importantly qualification, which can be captured by restating it: You can determine a person's character by the accuracy with which they admit their mistakes.

Accuracy here has many dimensions. First of all, you don't want someone to admit they made a mistake but then describe the error imprecisely (usually glossing over the truly assholish part). Second, you don't want them admitting they were wrong too early or too late. Character is all about actually making the mistake (not just fumbling through) and then actually acknowledging it (not just bumbling along, apologizing).

Pixie Bee

I really like Carolyn's rule. I have a rule that aligns with it: A good measure of a person is how well their words match their facial expressions/body language and, of course, their actions/behavior. If these are incongruous, the outcome is rarely, if ever, positive.

Jenn Weible

I love Carolyn's Rule. As an employer of 6, I find that is such a true test of character in people. I have a relatively new, fantastic 22 year old employee that recently made a customer service mistake. When it was caught, I brought it to her attention and I offered to call the client and take care of the issue. Instead, she insisted that she make the call, and I was totally blown away at the poise and professionalism she displayed when she did. I truly thought it was a learning opportunity for her, and instead it turned into one for me!

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