Management Anti-pattern: Fear of Making a New Mistake: One measure of a toxic work environment

A picture is worth 1000 words. A good measure is worth more.

Short version: Having a boss measure how toxic the environment he or she creates is wrong.

Generalized: Toxic environments are difficult to report on from inside. Empower your employees.

Ultra-specific request of managers: One person who is afraid of making mistakes is too much. Consider this specific measure of your work environment and consider others in this series.

Part of being in a toxic work environment is that you are afraid to mention it. Yet, it is that very environment which is decimating productivity.

There are a large number of factors which contribute to work environments which are not healthy and which are counter-productive.

I am going to give you one measure along one of those axis you can implement immediately.

Create an anonymous voting booth.

The question for that booth is: “Are you afraid of making any mistake one time, not the same mistake repeatedly?”

Let the team vote. Allow a neutral person to count the “Yes” votes.

How many “Yes” votes mean you have a serious problem?


You might say, “Well, that one person is unreasonable.”

Maybe so. But a problem as significant as this needs work.

Recommended steps for a Yes answer:

  • Step aside.
  • Ask a neutral third party to become a mediator and ask folks to tell the mediator why they answered Yes.
  • This person should be skilled at listening. Even if the reason a person gives is something which is not actionable, the person providing the reason should be listened to. Actionable reasons should be collected. Unactionable reasons should be addressed with the person who is afraid in a way which helps that person understand why the particular reason is unactionable, while validating their feeling of being afraid and developing potential workarounds
  • Have a defined process to publicly address any actionable reasons. The team needs to know you welcome feedback and that you are willing to make changes.

It takes one Yes to this question.

Are you brave enough to allow someone to ask this for you?

Are you good enough of a leader?

Who am I?

As someone with over two decades of leadership experience in the tech world, I still make mistakes. I have a treasure trove of anti-patterns I’ve either seen or exercised myself.

In short, I know the good stories. Don’t assume my stories are from my current place of employment. Odds are they are not.

I’m a senior data engineer experienced in Python and various SQL flavors, a process improver, a leader/manager, and someone who wants employee experiences to improve.

I hope you enjoy reading the articles in the Leadership Anti-Pattern series as much I enjoy writing them.

Resident of Frogpondia.

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