Australian leaders: Fearful and disconnected

by Cameron Edmond12 Nov 2013

A fear of looking incompetent to their employees means that leaders in Australia and New Zealand shy away from taking responsibility for their actions. Despite this, they encourage staff to learn from their own mistakes.

The Leadership Pulse Survey by the Forum Corporation found that 98.5% of leaders encourage their staff to “learn from their mistakes”. However, most aren’t quick to admit their own faults – 18.6% of employees said their leaders acknowledge their mistakes, with 45.4% stating their leaders never or rarely apologise.

The disconnect between employees and leaders is clearly evident when the same topic is viewed from the leader’s side: 78% of leaders stated they often or always acknowledge their mistakes, and 98.5% claim they do apologise.

When pressed as to why they don’t apologise, leaders admitted the factors as fear of looking incompetent (51%), fear of appearing weak (18%), a belief it wasn’t necessary (18%), a view that ‘the boss’ doesn’t have to (7%), and that it depends on the situation (6%).

However, it would appear it is necessary, as leaders who do not apologise or admit to mistakes risk eroding trust between themselves and their employees.

Trust remains mission-critical in Australian and NZ workplaces, with 93.2% of workers claiming they must have a leader they can trust, and 68.2% believing trust in leadership is more important now than in the past. A quarter of workers added they trust their leaders less now, with 18.1% admitting they either do not trust their leaders at all, or only to a small extent.

“The results showed a trust gap in organisation leadership across the region. The lack of trust in leadership directly impacts employee engagement levels, which can reduce productivity and increase staff turnover,” Cynthia Stuckey, managing director at Forum Asia Pacific, said.

“There is a need for managers to focus on regaining employees’ trust in organisation leadership as part of their engagement strategies to ensure they attract and retain the best talent,” she added.

The report found the top ways for leaders to gain the trust of their employees are:

  • Act in accordance with their own statements – act as they expect their employees to act.
  • Listen to employees and understand their concerns.
  • Follow through on commitments.
  • Encourage employees to offer ideas and suggestions.


  • by Nigel 12/11/2013 1:02:07 PM

    Very interesting article, we've found a similar issue with new hires fear of looking incompetent being an important driver in the hire number of people not finishing their probation periods

  • by Cameron 12/11/2013 2:13:10 PM

    Good point, Nigel. I can certainly imagine that the daunting nature of starting a position can result in people feeling concerned about admitting to faults.

    What is interesting about the topic is that the results also show that people are fine/would prefer others to admit their mistakes so everyone can learn from them. It is interesting to see how our own hang-ups and insecurities can affect our rationality.

  • by Guy 12/11/2013 3:27:27 PM

    Often the problem is that managers are ill-prepared for their management role. They have had little or no training on managing people, they therefore tend to focus on the administrivia and forget the importance of their team as a group of thinking, feeling human beings.
    Lencioni talks about the five dysfunctions of the team - the first being an absence of trust. It's hard to get this ball rolling but I try to encourage managers to take the first step. If a manager exhibits a vulnerability, and asks his or her team for help, this goes a long way to building trust in the team. It sends a message and sets the example.
    The results in this article are not surprising, disappointing but not surprising. It confirms that many organisations are struggling with these same issues.

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