Owning your mistakes

There is an unspoken myth that leaders are always correct and never make mistakes. The reality is that before being a leader, you are human and, as such, you are inevitably going to make mistakes. This is specially true since, as a leader you work with scenarios, with thousands of variables, where the outcome is always uncertain. You are going to make mistakes, and it is what you do, when you make a mistake, that can either build trust and respect, or destroy it.

Owning your mistakes, admitting that you were wrong is a very powerful action. Besides creating a safe environment for people to openly admit to their mistakes, you also debunk the myth that leaders are never allowed to make mistakes.


Denying or deflecting the responsibility of a mistake is a common technique i have seen used by many leaders over my years as a leader. This is a very dangerous and deterring technique and should be addressed quickly. If you see yourself trying to deny a mistake or trying to deflect the responsibility to someone else, accept that it is your responsibility and own up to it.

When you deny a mistake, you are always putting yourself in a difficult position. Your employees and pairs, most probably know that you made a mistake. By denying it, you are essentially lying to them, which in turn, will erode trust and respect.

If besides denying the mistake, you deflect it to somebody else, the situation worsens. Even though you think you’ve managed to avoid the mistake all together, you are now, not only seen as less trustworthy, someone who lacks integrity. You are creating a leadership based on fear and uneasiness rather than of trust and respect, and there is no real coming back from when you are in that place.


Trust in not some off the shelf item you can buy in a shop or some benefit a position will provide. Trust is earned, earned day by day, minute by minute. Trust is earned between leaders and employees, leaders and leaders, and leaders and the organization.

Owning mistakes and taking responsibility for your actions is a great way to build trust. It also provides the team with what I like to think of as a behavioral scaffold. You actions and your posture will likely inspire similar behavior. Owning up, also makes you more relatable, making your employees and pairs will more prone to admitting their mistakes and take responsibility for their actions.

A great leader is transparent enough to let people know he has made mistakes and what lessons he has learned from them. He is comfortable in sharing this learning experience in order to allow others to learn from his mistake.

A while ago I heard a quote that stuck with me.

Fail fast, fail often, fail forward

I am not sure of the origin of this quote, as far as I could tell, it was from John C. Maxwell, a recognized leadership expert (http://www.johnmaxwell.com/).

From my very own perspective, as a leader in the technology department in a start up, this quote is constantly on my mind, in every discussion I have or any decision I make.

In a fast paced environment such as a start up, uncertainty is part of your day. Being able to accommodate changes to your road map, adapt to market scenarios, react to user behavior and squash out bugs is very important. You and your team will make mistakes, acknowledging them, taking responsibility for them, and acting to mitigate them is part of your job. This whole process is a great tool for you and your team to improve constantly.


We all make mistakes. Being responsible, taking ownership, and learning from our mistakes will help us, not only grow and improve, but also make it clear for those we lead that it is OK to make mistakes, and that they can be a great tool for learning. Being responsible and transparent is important if you wish to earn trust and respect from others.