Should Leaders Admit Their Mistakes?

There is a school of thought that leaders should not admit when they have made mistakes, presumably because there is a belief that by doing so, they lose credibility and power. You can often see this operating in politics, where it seems that a fair number of political leaders resolutely refuse to admit errors by dancing through all kinds of strange hoops and excuses, or simply denying what they did.

Obviously a leader who makes many mistakes on an almost daily basis has a serious problem but it has little to do with admitting mistakes, and everything to do with their competence levels and judgement.

The reality is that leaders should be able to admit their mistakes to their followers. In fact this increases trust and loyalty by making the leader a human being in the eyes of followers. More importantly, by admitting mistakes, employees learn that you are serious about being honest, open, responsible and accountable, and this is fundamental to creating trust and loyalty.

It only takes a minute of thought to verify this. Put yourself in the role of a regular employee. Your boss makes a huge error in such a way that it is obvious to staff, customers, etc that the mistake has been made. If your boss refuses to acknowledge the error, and take responsibility, how do you perceive him? As honest? Trustworthy? No way.

Compare this to a situation where the boss owns up to a mistake. While mistakes aren’t great in the first place, owning up mitigates some of the damage. In fact taking responsibility for mistakes can actually enhance the ability to lead.

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