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Embracing Mistakes in Leadership: The Crucial Role of a Positive Error Culture in Corporate Success

Embracing Mistakes in Leadership: The Crucial Role of a Positive Error Culture in Corporate Success

Mistakes are human, inevitable, and happen to everyone occasionally, even when trying to avoid them. Especially in the workplace, mistakes are often seen as failures, weaknesses, or signs of incompetence or negligence. This leads to mistakes being frequently concealed instead of learning from them to avoid them in the future, ultimately hindering a company’s progress and innovation. However, in high-risk industries such as aviation, air traffic control, or hospitals, where people’s lives are at stake in case of errors, a new perspective on mistakes has emerged in recent years: it is accepted that mistakes can happen. However, great attention is paid to recognizing them early and handling them properly. The basis for this is a positive error culture, which ensures that companies can continue to develop through mistakes.

What is an error culture and why is it important?

The term error culture describes how a company deals with mistakes, that is, how it reacts to glitches or problems and the resulting consequences. The culture around errors can be either positive or negative. In a negative culture, mistakes are often not discussed, hindering problem-solving. Instead, there are often blame games, and employees are made to account for their mistakes or even punished.
In a positive error culture, however, difficulties are seen as opportunities for learning and growth. Mistakes are therefore accepted and used for progress within the company. Instead of looking for the guilty party, the focus is on understanding the reasons for the mistakes, reflecting on them, and working on a common solution to prevent this specific mistake from happening in the future. This ultimately benefits the company because weaknesses can be identified, and alternatives can be found—whether it’s internal processes, product quality, or teamwork. With a positive error culture, a company can continuously improve, remaining innovative and competitive. However, to prevent misunderstandings: a positive error culture does not mean acting negligently or recklessly to make as many mistakes as possible or turning a blind eye to such actions as a leader. Rather, it’s about how unavoidable mistakes are handled.

Effects of a positive error culture: Effects of a negative leadership culture:
  • Long-term improvement of products, processes, and collaboration
  • Identification of weaknesses and prevention of future mistakes
  • Motivated employees
  • Promotion of innovation and creativity
  • Good teamwork through openness and constructive criticism
  • Loss of respect and recognition of employees towards the leadership
  • Limited innovation potential and low risk-taking due to fear of mistakes
  • Concealment of mistakes fear among employees, and a poor work environment
  • Lower employee performance due to fear of making a mistake
  • High turnover

6 Tips for a Positive Error Culture

The management or respective leadership is responsible for introducing a new, open error culture. To embed the new error culture in the corporate philosophy and encourage employees to adopt a new approach to mistakes, a lot of expertise and, above all, sensitivity is required to alleviate employees’ fear of the consequences of mistakes. Some tips have proven useful in this regard:

1. Understand the current situation

First, analyze how errors are currently handled within the company or department and where they occur most frequently. Only when the current situation is known can it be precisely defined what should be achieved.

2. Lead by example

Even leaders are not without fault. Therefore, they should try to be a good role model, admit to their own mistakes, and openly discuss them with the team. Only when leaders admit their own mistakes can their team learn to trust them and point out mistakes without fear.
Our tip: While it might feel uncomfortable, it could be essential for a leader to apologize to individual employees or the entire team for a mistake. Many leaders fear that in such cases, their team will respect them less after such an admission. However, in most cases, the opposite is true, and an honest apology brings recognition and trust.

3. Neutral handling of mistakes in the team

In a positive error culture, it does not matter who made a mistake, but rather to find the mistake and its causes. This allows the problem to be fixed promptly and prevents it from recurring in the future. The focus should not be on finding a scapegoat. Rather, all parties involved should remain objective and neutral to work on a solution to the problem. Some mistakes are very annoying and lead to further problems. However, if leaders become emotional in such moments and respond to their employees with sanctions or bad moods, a positive error culture cannot work. By maintaining objectivity, leaders can ease their team’s fear of the consequences of mistakes.

4. Accepting mistakes and manageable risks

An open approach to mistakes or setbacks is a long process that all parties involved must understand and practice repeatedly until it is internalized. Therefore, it can be assumed that mistakes will occur again and again, requiring regular adjustments. The same applies when a mistake is discovered and a solution is found. It may happen that the solution does not work as planned or that further mistakes occur in the process of problem-solving. In such cases, leaders should trust the process instead of exerting excessive control. In the search for an optimal solution, it is normal to encounter some setbacks initially. Additionally, it may be necessary to take calculated risks to test a solution.

5. Transparent communication

Developing a positive error culture can only be achieved as a team. Therefore, employees should be involved and asked for feedback, advice, or assistance. It is important to talk about mistakes transparently at all times and work together on a solution. This creates trust and motivation.

6. Establishing a process for error management:

Trusting cooperation and successful error management go hand in hand. Defined processes in dealing with errors help to identify error sources (error detection), understand their causes (error diagnosis), and correct them (error correction), as well as prevent them in the long term (error prevention). Effective error management leads to greater sensitivity among employees for their work, less damage, and increased customer satisfaction through fewer complaints. Moreover, companies that admit to their mistakes and communicate openly often have less trouble than those that conceal them. In this way, good error management also has a positive impact on the company’s image and customer loyalty.
Our tip: The process for error management should be kept as short and simple as possible so that errors can be corrected quickly. A reward system, similar to an in-house suggestion scheme, can additionally encourage employees to report errors.

Error management methods

Few have internalized a positive error culture and excellent error management better and earlier than Japanese car manufacturers, led by Toyota. To deal with scarce resources, the Kaizen principle was introduced here. This is based on the idea of continuous improvement, i.e., recognizing mistakes, their causes, and subsequently improving in small steps. According to the Kaizen principle, every employee should constantly question their work and make suggestions for improvement. This can range from small improvements, such as placing frequently used tools within easy reach, to far beyond one’s own area of work.
Agile methods, such as SCRUM, also rely on the principle of continuous improvement. In the sprint retrospective before starting a new sprint process, errors and possible solutions are discussed within the team. Measures can be agreed upon to gradually improve processes, products, or communication.


A positive error culture is not only a modern approach in corporate management but also crucial for long-term success. By viewing mistakes not as failures but as learning opportunities, companies can identify weaknesses, promote innovation, and strengthen collaboration. Openly addressing mistakes enables the finding of constructive solutions and achieving long-term improvements in products, processes, and teamwork.

The leadership software myPARM CorporateNavigator supports managers in communicating openly and transparently with employees, thereby contributing to continuous improvement and a positive error culture. At the same time, the management information system helps in identifying emerging challenges early and defining countermeasures. The integrated risk management aids in preventing errors proactively.

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