Leader Error Recovery: Apology, Blame, & Denial as Tactics for Repairing Leader-Subordinate Relationships

Open Access
Cushenbery, Liliya
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
April 16, 2010
Committee Members:
  • Dr Sam Hunter, Thesis Advisor
  • Samuel Todd Hunter, Thesis Advisor
  • competence
  • leadership
  • subordinates
  • errors
  • leader
  • mistakes
Leaders make mistakes, and their mistakes have consequences for their relationship with subordinates. Given that errors are simply a part of rather than a digression from leadership, the emergent question becomes how leaders should respond in order to maximize recovery efforts. This laboratory based experiment examined 353 participant reactions to apologizing, blaming one’s circumstances, blaming others, and ignoring mistakes as methods for recovering from error. Results indicate that blaming others had the highest subordinate ratings of leader competence, willingness to follow the leader in future projects, and subordinate organizational citizenship behavior. Subordinates were more positive in the blaming others condition than in the control condition where the leader did not make a mistake. In contrast, apologizing resulted in the lowest subordinate ratings. Participants also gave lower ratings to the leader when the mistake was a higher impact mistake vs. a lower impact mistake. These results indicate that, contrary to popular belief, an apology may not always be the most effective method of leader error recovery.