Have you ever been in a situation where insecurity convinced you that you’re the only one making mistakes?

Or did it lead you to feel relieved when someone else suffered a misstep and the world didn’t end? Maybe it helped you relax and even allowed you to tap into a more productive, creative zone.

Leaders can play a huge role in reducing stress for their employees. I’ll offer guidance on how leaders can disclose vulnerabilities in a way that empowers their teams to lean into their own mistakes, learn from one another, and embody innovation.

The Benefits of Authenticity in Leadership

Self-disclosing mistakes is an act of vulnerability and authenticity, both of which are known to have a positive effect on teams. Research by Jiang et al. (2022) found that leaders who self-disclose weaknesses are perceived as more authentic. And when employees feel that their leader is authentic, they tend to find them easier to trust, which in turn builds more cohesive and engaged teams.

When mistakes are not discussed, employees might make any of the following harmful assumptions:

  • “I’m the only one making mistakes and should keep them to myself so I don’t get singled out.”
  • “Everyone probably makes mistakes, but we shouldn’t talk about them, or we might get punished.”
  • “My boss never admits to making mistakes because they’re insecure and inauthentic.”

These are only a few examples–there are countless ways employees can experience a workplace culture in which mistakes are not normalized. By openly discussing setbacks and encouraging others to do the same, leaders can model and foster deeper, more meaningful communication and collaboration.

Identify the Purpose of Sharing Your Mistake

In the above-cited research, the authors refer to sharing mistakes and weaknesses as “sensitive self-disclosure,” an aptly named behavior since self-disclosure without sensitivity (or any communication without sensitivity, for that matter) often leads to trouble. One way to ensure you navigate self-disclosure sensitively is to identify your purpose.

Here are some examples of why you may want to disclose a mistake or weakness:

  • To lead by example and normalize failure. Sharing your mistakes is a great way to lead by example. By demonstrating tolerance of your own missteps, you will empower your team to do the same, thus bolstering innovation.
  • To learn a lesson alongside your team. Mistakes are a learning opportunity. Perhaps you’ve made a mistake that one of your team members has made or is about to make–your disclosure can prevent similar setbacks from happening in the future.
  • To form shared experiences with your team. Collective problem-solving promotes empathy and cohesion, allowing team members to share feelings and frustrations.This better equips teams to handle challenges going forward.

Practical Ways to Integrate Sensitive Self-Disclosure Into Your Team Culture

Making positive changes on your team is most effective when they are woven throughout your culture. Here are some examples of how leaders can make sensitive self-disclosure a regular practice:

  • When failure happens, explore the reasoning objectively, always reflecting on the role you may have played.
  • If you find yourself experiencing shame and self-doubt regarding your mistakes, check in with your emotions before bringing it up in a team setting. Too emotional of a disclosure can make team members uncomfortable.
  • When disclosing your mistakes, embody how you want your team members to own up to their own. Explain what happened, take accountability, and present a path forward.


Sharing mistakes isn’t just about admitting faults – it’s about practicing authenticity, creating a culture of learning, and promoting team cohesion. With an understanding of how sensitive self-disclosure can positively impact teams and encourage open, honest communication, leaders can create a workplace where everyone feels empowered to grow and succeed.

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