Leaders who commit mistakes are considered less competent, less desirable to work for and less effective compared to leaders who do not make mistakes.
And if the leader is a man making a mistake in a man's world, he is judged more harshly than a woman making the same mistake in a man's world.
This is according to a new study by Christian Thoroughgood, from the Pennsylvania State University in the US, and his colleagues.
Thoroughgood and his colleagues looked at how male and female leaders are rated, when they make mistakes.
They were particularly interested in whether subordinates would perceive their leaders differently according to the type of mistake they made and their gender, i.e., a man or a woman working in either a man's world (construction) or a woman's world (nursing).
A total of 284 undergraduates from a large northeastern university in the US, who had worked on average for nearly three years, read a series of fictional emails describing a leader's behaviour. They were asked to envision themselves as subordinates of the leader - either a man or a woman. In the emails, the leaders made two types of errors: task errors and relationship errors.
The participants then answered an online survey measuring their perception of the leader's competence in both task and relationship matters, their desire to work for the leader as well as their opinion of whether the leader was effective or not.
The researchers found that errors did damage perceptions of leaders who commit them. Leaders who made mistakes were viewed as less competent in both task and relationship areas and 'subordinates' were less likely to want to work for them. They were also seen as less effective.
In addition, the researchers observed an effect of gender. Male leaders were evaluated more negatively than female leaders for errors made in masculinized work domains.
The researchers suggested that male leaders might be seen as violating expectations of male performance in this context, whereas women are expected to fail in masculine work settings.
"Our results suggest that leader errors matter; errors damage perceptions of a leader's competence and follower's desire to work for them. While it is impractical to suggest leaders should attempt to avoid errors altogether, they should recognize the different types of errors they make and consider how these errors impact their followers in different ways," they concluded.
The study has been published online in Springer's Journal of Business and Psychology.