In the pursuit of success, leaders are often expected to be flawless and infallible. Yet, the fear of making mistakes can hinder their growth and inhibit the potential for innovation and progress.

Today we will delve into why leaders in particular fear making mistakes, explore the barriers to admitting errors, and offer strategies to foster a culture of openness and learning.

Why do leaders fear making mistakes?

Short client story: A client of mine, a leader who recently moved one level up in leadership, told me that he is not allowed to make mistakes. He was very adamant that this is the right way to do things. This was a limiting belief and a fixed mindset, and I could see the fears behind it. He was expecting the team to follow and be mistake-free just like him.

I asked him a very direct question “Who told you to not make mistakes?” It was he who was putting this expectation on himself.

The fear of making errors stems from the fear of damaging one’s reputation or worse, losing credibility. Leaders feel pressure to maintain an image of invincibility.

Admitting mistakes requires vulnerability, humility, and self-reflection. These qualities are not always associated with traditional notions of leadership.

Some people mistake vulnerability for weakness. Mistakes make leaders look human and give them a respite from perfection.

Several factors contribute to the reluctance of leaders to admit their mistakes:

  • Fear of repercussions: Leaders fear that admitting mistakes will result in negative consequences, such as loss of authority and trust.
  • Ego and image: Many leaders try to maintain an image of superheroes. Mistakes can be a threat to their perceived competency and may shake their self-confidence.
  • Fixed mindset: Some leaders carry a fixed mindset that views mistakes as a reflection of their fundamental abilities. This mindset stops growth and robs leaders of valuable learning opportunities.

6 opportunities that will make you more comfortable with making mistakes:

  1. Encourage psychological safety: Create an environment where leaders and teams feel safe to express their thoughts, ideas, and concerns without judgment.  More about how to build psychological safety here.
  1. Role modelling: You should model vulnerability and admit your own mistakes. Show that it is acceptable to make errors. Inspire your team to embrace a growth mindset and view mistakes as stepping stones to improvement.
  1. Establish a learning culture: Encourage continuous learning and development. Create a culture where mistakes are opportunities for growth rather than personal failures. Do post-mortem analyses to extract valuable insights from failures. Share the learning.
  1. Promote accountability and constructive feedback: Criticise the mistake and not the person. Take responsibility for your mistakes and engage in constructive self-reflection. Ask the others to do the same! Enable your team members to provide and ask for honest feedback without fear of retribution.
  1. Focus on problem-solving: Staying in the past is not productive. Focus on what needs to be done and how to avoid this making it a recurring mistake.
  1. Take a break from perfection: See how to do this in my article here.

What about my client?

He dared to challenge his fixed mindset and started working on feeling more comfortable with making mistakes. It wasn’t easy. His internal saboteurs were trying to pull him back to old habits. But he had the motivation and permission to experiment and…make mistakes on the way.

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