Why Leaders Should Share Their Mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes. This simple fact of life can often be overlooked in the workplace, where some leaders and organizational climates shame employees for making mistakes. This can lead to a culture where employees hide their mistakes – compounding the issues and leading to fear of repercussions and burnout for all involved.

However, leaders can play an active role in reshaping the organizational culture into one of psychological safety, where team members can feel safe and empowered to share their mistakes and work together to find solutions. Researchers in this study (Zhang et al., 2024) found one way that leaders can do this – through setting an example by sharing their own mistakes with team members.


The researchers used two waves of data collection from an architectural design company in China. They collected data from 353 participants across 95 different teams. Overall, they found that when leaders actively led the way in sharing their own errors, the team members under them also shared their own errors. This led to the team members viewing their leader as more ethical and helped to develop a more positive error-sharing climate within the team.


Mistakes and errors are inevitable. What is important is how people respond to them. For leaders and organizations who want to create climates where employees feel safe to come forward with their mistakes, the following is recommended.

  • Organizational leaders should act as role models to show that it is okay to share errors and openly discuss them.
  • Actively work to change the climate from one of punishing errors to working through the mistakes. This will mitigate the damage that mistakes cause.
  • Focus on proactive consequence-mitigation, rather than punishment and reactive clean-up efforts only.
  • Prioritize training and developing leaders who recognize the importance of open communication, especially regarding errors.


Image credit: istockphoto/nadia_bormotova