Leaders should admit mistakes

Psychological Safety promotes a safe space for experiments, innovation and making mistakes, which we often do in this Versatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world of software development. In Psychological Safety we treat the mistake as a learning experience and an opportunity for innovation, unless repeated in absurdum. As a leader you need to act when you see or hear about a mistake, and I don’t mean starting a blame game. One great leader I worked with acknowledged his mistake and called for a retrospective on the topic. He started the workshop by talking about his previous greatest mistake – causing a 24h downtime on the web server after deploying a “load of shit” – and then continued with his new mistake for discussion. When leaders have the balls to talk about their weaknesses, others will follow. But this type of management is still very rare. Few managers dare to put the team first and trust them to do the job. An idea is to have a retrospective with mistakes as a theme. Here are four questions as input to this retrospective:

  • What did you fail at?
  • What was the root cause?
  • How did you cope?
  • What did you learn?

This is a part of the book Psychological UNsafety from the trenches you can order or read more about here.

Ove Holmberg

Doubter, gaffer, author