A Leader Who Punishes Mistakes Kills Innovation And Morale

“When a leader punishes mistakes, the good people leave and the only people left behind are the complacent or apathetic ones.”

“Is it okay if…?” “Do you mind if I…?” “I want to check with you before….”

These are quotes I used to hear from one woman on our team. The reason she said them had nothing to do with me and everything to do with past leadership from other organizations. In the past, if she made a mistake, she’d hear about it. The negative feedback could be a look, a comment or even a disrespectful diatribe.

Have you ever been there? Some of you don’t have to imagine what it was like for her to feel stuck in the situation. You may have lived it. So have many of the individuals we work with. In my posts, I frequently ask the same question, “Would you follow you?” Today, I would like to take the concept a bit further and ask you to think about your reaction to the mistakes of others.

How we respond to the mistakes of others speaks to our character. It also determines what type of team we lead.

A leader who punishes mistakes or creates a negative environment will kill innovation and morale within the team. For many leaders, their own deep-seated fear of failure causes them to create a fear of failure in others. This fear only harms teams. Why? Because without failure, there is no learning. This means there must be freedom to fail. If a leader is in failure prevention mode, that leader is in learning prevention mode as well.

The only way we innovate is when we realize something isn’t working. The only way we realize something isn’t working is when we are allowed to try it, and we encounter failure.

Without the latitude to fail, there is no incentive to try new things—the result is to plateau. Teams stagnate and good people lose motivation. A culture ruled by the fear of failure, makes people complacent and apathetic, or the good people leave to find a culture which encourages innovation.

Did you catch that? The only ones left behind are the complacent and apathetic ones. And, this is the result of the leader’s response to the failures of others.

Within our own company, I recognize our team needs the freedom to fail. The woman I mentioned earlier, she is thriving in her position. She gained the confidence to make decisions for our team without checking with me. I admit they aren’t always the decisions I would make, but sometimes that is okay too! We both learn from the decisions which are different than expected, that fail in the first attempt, or have different results than we expected. We discuss all of these and move forward. We try new things, fail at some and we learn from all outcomes together.

I admit it has taken time for us to reach this place. But as Leaders of Character, we have a responsibility to inspire someone to take a risk and tempt failure, especially if they previously received a negative response for it. We have the ability to build someone back up.

Through consistent communication, moderating my reactions, and a mutual willingness for us to learn from our mistakes, our team member has now become one of our bold innovators. We have new processes and procedures she has developed that have streamlined our business. She tells me she loves her job and being part of a growing and ever-changing organization.

She gets things done without me asking her to do it. Her most common quote now is ,“Oh, I already took care of that.”

Which do you think is a better place to work? A place where the most common quote is “Is it okay if….?” Or a team where people say, “Oh, I already took care of that.”?

Dig Deep Questions:

  • Who on your team or in your family needs to be encouraged to take more risks?

  • How can you make it a learning experience if they experience failure?


It is important to us for you to have an opportunity to exercise Courage, not only individually, but together as a team. This is why we have created practice cards with scenarios. We invite you to discuss as a team what it means to exercise Courage via our Coaching Cards.

Download our FREE Postcards here: https://www.becomingaleaderofcharacter.com/tools-resources

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