Jonah Hill on Accountability

There comes a time in every leader’s life when they say something that they immediately regret. We need to know how to handle these situations. Let’s look to Jonah Hill for direction.

Jonah Hill is a widely successful, Oscar-nominated actor. He can be funny (Superbad, Knocked Up), dramatic (Wolf of Wall Street, Moneyball), and an action star (21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street). Jonah can also be solemn. On The Tonight Show this week, Jonah skipped the promotion for his new movie to address a recent controversy.

My heart’s broken, and I genuinely am deeply sorry to anyone who’s been affected by that term in their life. I’m sorry, and I don’t deserve or expect your forgiveness.

A few days before the interview, Jonah was caught using a homophobic slur towards a paparazzo. As he explained, the paparazzo had been verbally harassing Jonah all day until he snapped.

In response, I wanted to hurt him back, and I said the most hurtful word that I could think of at that moment.

I do not enjoy celebrity gossip nor am I interested in debating Jonah’s (or the paparazzo’s) behaviors.  What interests me about this story is how Jonah took immediate action to address it and make amends.

When you make a mistake, how do you deal with it? Do you wait to see if anyone notices before taking responsibility? Do you try to figure out who else had a hand in it so you can circumvent culpability? Leaders are role models. The way you attend to your blunders sets the tone for how everyone else will do it when it’s their turn.

In a few weeks, no one will remember what Jonah said. Unlike those celebrities who have made inappropriate comments that tarnished their reputation, Jonah followed some basic rules that can benefit all of us:

  • Admit fault.
  • Do not let the gossip build up; tackled it swiftly and without being prompted.
  • Avoid making excuses, minimizing the issue, or deflecting blame.
  • Give a heartfelt apology.
  • Discuss how you will improve.

If it is never okay to acknowledge mistakes, then people will hide errors from you.  They will find scapegoats. And they will not the take the risks that accompany innovation.

Show your team how to apologize. A little vulnerability goes a long way.