Do you or others you work with suffer from “CYA” (cover your, well, you know…) syndrome? It happens to the best of us. Whether you are a work-from-home mom or the CEO of a large corporation, odds are you will make a mistake that results in hurt feelings, poor business decisions, or worse.

Harry Truman famously placed a sign on his desk which said, “The Buck Stops Here.” While every leader is bound to err from time to time, what you do after the slip-up matters. In order to be an effective leader, you must show that you are strong enough…and brave enough…to be accountable for your actions and those of your team.

Why is it important to own up to your mistakes as a leader? There are several reasons to hold yourself accountable for mistakes:

  1. Instill Confidence Among Followers—By admitting to errors, you show others that you have courage…a quality essential to good leadership.

  2. Earn Respect—People respect leaders who can openly admit mistakes and successfully correct them.

  3. Set The Example—By acknowledging a mistake, you are modeling the appropriate way to handle the situation. This sets the precedence for those around you.

  4. Dispell Fear—By taking ownership of your wrong action, you show others that they don’t need to fear ownership of their mistakes.  They will be much more likely to have free, open communication instead of trying to cover themselves when they slip up. This keeps small problems from becoming large problems.


So how do you properly own up to your mistakes? Truthfully, there is no way to take the awkwardness out of the moment, but here is how it can be done effectively:

  • Apologize for your mistake. Not the “half apology” that starts out with “I’m sorry” and ends with “but you….” Say you are sorry and leave it at that.

  • Whole heartedly admit your error. This doesn’t include starting your dialogue with “I may have….” Just the facts, ma’am (or sir). No excuses—they will only detract from the sincerity of your apology.

  • Explain how you plan to fix the problem. This is a crucial part of taking responsibility for your actions or those of your team. This step tells others that you are aware of your error and are committed to making things right.

  • Do what you say you will do in the steps above. If you fail to come through on your promises, you will lose the respect and confidence others have in your ability to lead.

  • Learn from your mistakes. Experience is a great, and sometimes painful, teacher. Take this opportunity to reflect on what went wrong so that you don’t repeat the same mistake twice. 

By taking personal responsibility for your actions with courage and humility, you are modeling true leadership qualities and gaining the respect of those around you. And, if handled properly, mistakes can help us sharpen our leadership skills and lead to personal growth.

Are you interested in fine-tuning your personal leadership skills? Leadership Excellence offers personal coaching and business coaching catered to your specific needs. Contact us to find out how our programs can get measurable results for you.

Want more leadership resources? Check out our sister site, www.leadingtoday.org, for over 1000 free leadership resources including articles, tips, and other valuable information.