Journal of Business and Psychology

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 31–48

Real Men Don’t Make Mistakes: Investigating the Effects of Leader Gender, Error Type, and the Occupational Context on Leader Error Perceptions

  • Christian N. Thoroughgood
  • Katina B. Sawyer
  • Samuel T. Hunter



Despite the fact that leaders make mistakes, little attention has been paid to the effects of errors on subordinate perceptions. This study investigated the influence of errors on perceptions of leader competence, effectiveness, and desire to work for the leader. It also examined the effects of gendered expectations on perceptions of male and female leader errors by investigating the interactions that occur between the leader’s gender, the type of error, and the occupational context.


A sample of 284 undergraduates read a series of fictional employee emails describing a leader’s behavior and responded to several measures while envisioning themselves as subordinates of the leader.


Results suggested task and relationship errors exert damaging and differential effects on perceptions of leader task and relationship competence, respectively, and equally damage desire to work for the leader. Male leaders were perceived as less task and relationship competent, desirable to work for, and effective than female leaders for committing errors in a masculinized domain.


This study suggests leader errors matter, and that current leadership models ought to be expanded to account more clearly for them. Moreover, it offers insight into the role of gendered expectations in determining perceptions of male and female leader errors.


This study is one of the first to empirically examine leader error perceptions and the effects of gender stereotypes on these perceptions. It represents a step toward understanding evaluations of male and female leaders, not when they succeed, but when they make mistakes.


Leadership Leader errors Gender Follower attributions 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian N. Thoroughgood
    • 1
  • Katina B. Sawyer
    • 2
  • Samuel T. Hunter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA

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