Solution Saturday: They Won’t Own Mistakes
I have an issue with some of my team where if they make a mistake they don’t own it. They deflect and change the subject. They never admit they did the mistake.
I was wondering if you knew of any team building activities that would help me build this confidence in admitting fault so that you can learn and grow?
Dealing with deflectors
It’s great to see how you connect owning mistakes with growth and learning.
The suggestions that follow center on learning and growth.
Your passion seems to be learning and growth.
You wrote, “…admitting fault so that you can learn and grow.” Some leaders might have said, “I want people to admit fault so you can hit your goals next time.”
I’m sure you want to deliver results. However, you seem to lean toward personal growth that delivers results.
Focus on your positive passion to develop people.
- Practice coaching. I wrote three articles that give you an overview of The 10 Practices of Coaching Leaders that might be useful.
- Develop stretch assignments where falling short is expected. “I don’t expect you to get this right the first time. Let’s talk about what you’re learning as this project progresses.”
- Use three levels of affirmation to bolster confidence. (All three can be used in the same conversation.)
- Affirm behaviors. “You worked hard to deliver great results.”
- Affirm the person. “I really admire your initiative when it comes to starting projects.”
- Affirm potential. “I’m counting on your ability to get things done to bring us home.”
Share your journey:
Own your mistakes both privately and publicly. The best ways for leaders to own mistakes is to share lessons learned.
Present yourself as a learner who is getting better. Don’t put yourself down. Share dumb things you’ve done that made you better.
Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is a fabulous resource that might help you create a growth mindset.
You email indicates you have compassion, but the use of “fault” feels harsh.
Language matters. Focus on learning rather than fault.
If you want people to admit mistakes, ask them what they’re learning from mistakes.
You might hit this head on by having private conversations with deflectors.
“I’ve been trying to build an environment where it’s safe for people to learn and grow by owning their mistakes, but I’m not doing very well. What suggestions do you have?”
- What might we do that makes it more comfortable for others to share what their learning from mistakes?
- What are you learning from mistakes?
- What have you learned from mistakes?
Thank you for your email and your passion for leadership. Perhaps Leadership Freak readers will have other suggestions.
You have my best,
What suggestions do you have for “Dealing with deflectors”?
What team building activities would you suggest?
*I relax my 300 word limit on Solution Saturdays
Dan, I like the one on one approch, take the individual aside and discuss the mistakes head on! Let them know with mistakes there can be consequences for the team, corporation and themselves. Put them in Leader shoes and ask them what they would do differently? After your discussion, encourage them to see the path we see and align with the group!
Thanks Tim. As I read your comment, I thought about different styles and personalities. It’s easy for you and I to address something head on. Others might struggle with this. In either case, dealing with the concern is the leaders main concern.
You’ll also notice that a large part of this post is turning the responsibility on the leader. I’m not saying that “Dealing” was pushing responsibility on others. I am saying that if we aren’t careful we can deflect our responsibilities.
Easy to do when it comes to deflection! Understood!
What immediately popped into my head when reading the Saturday situation was “They don’t believe making mistakes is EXPECTED!!” Love this point: “Develop stretch assignments where falling short is expected. ‘I don’t expect you to get this right the first time. Let’s talk about what you’re learning as this project progresses.'” IF we challenge ourselves to address meaningful situations, to make a difference, our efforts must be risky. Mistakes / missteps will happen!!! Leadership MUST make sure all know this is ok if learning happens and revised plans made.
Thanks John. Your comment has a sense of exuberance as well as insight. I love that.
Thanks for driving home this idea. Leaders who expect people to take risks must prepare to deal with mistakes in ways that allow even more mistakes.
Deal with mistakes in ways that allow/encourage more mistakes. Hmmm. That’s something to mull over.
Interesting question. The use of “they” stood out to me that this manager is possibly feeling like it’s him against “them” and “they” are wrong and “he” is right in his attempts of trying to correct people on the team. Could this manager possibly be the problem or a micro-manager if several people on the team seem to be responding in like-manner to this manager’s take on what a “mistake” even is and how it (or worse, how “they”) should be fixed? Could it just be some blind-spots or ineptness in this manager? Thanks for the post, Dan.
Thanks Charlene. I’m not sure how the person who sent the question would respond. But, your questions are worth exploring.
When we don’t like our environment, the first place to look is at ourselves.
Thanks for responding so quickly. Your pointers are well taken. You always make so much sense.
Thanks again Barbara
Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________
My pleasure, Barbara. Thanks for being on the journey with the rest of us. Your humble spirit will take you far.
Best for the journey.
Hi Dan and all,
Hard to see what constitutes a mistake in the writer’s question. The kind of dumb error that comes from rushed analysis, sloppy procedures, or less than careful execution? If it’s happening frequently, the whole team owns that, not the least the management. The kind of mistake that comes from a new task, where the territory is uncharted and not every choice taken is going to be perfect? I don’t think they qualify as mistakes and it’s here that all of Dan’s suggestions would help the team learn the new game better, constructively, and quickly because they save time on all that finger pointing and worrying about trying not to look bad.
Or the kind of mistake where the manager would have done something differently and, rightly or not, doesn’t like the way it’s being done now.
What about the power of a manager who, in front of everyone, like it’s the most natural thing in the world, says, ‘THAT was a mistake, next time I get the choice I will definitely do ________.” You can imagine someone hearing that might then themselves feel free to say ” I handled a matter with a customer awkwardly and I need to address that.” The mistake is noted but the meat of the matter is the forward facing action.
Thanks Catie. Brilliant addition to the conversation. Your analysis of types of mistakes extends the conversation.
I’m with you on model the way. Just talk about mistakes like they are part of life, as long was we are commited to learn and grow.
Frequently ask, “What is the next imperfect action you can take?”
Consider a mantra or frequently share The idea (philosophy) of “progress, not perfection”.
Thanks Joe. Love it. One of my favorite words is “imperfect”. I’m glad you stopped in.
Here’s to a great Sunday
We are working to build a culture that celebrates risk-taking and accepts mistakes as integral to that process. Could the individual who is not comfortably owning mistakes be asked to address the group with the valuable learning they discovered, de-emphasizing the mistake and honoring the leadership that they can provide in this area?
Thanks Dawn. Great to hear about you’re passion to build a risk-taking culture that accepts mistakes.
Your idea of “de-emphasizing” mistakes and honoring leadership makes sense to me. It’s not the mistake but the learning that counts. Of course, we are all about responsible mistake-making.
I’ve always done the same thing, i never got angry and blamed them instead of finding the solution as soon as possible.
I actually wanted them to pass all customer complains and concern to me, not hiding the problems.
Thanks Andy. What I hear you saying is deal with problems when they’re small. Don’t allow them to get big. In order to do that, you have to own them early. Makes sense to me.
I agree with Dan – Language matters.
We can stretch this to encompas (verbal and non verbal ) language in/around mistakes when they happen creates the environment your team functions in. If our mantra is progress over perfection we should ask and honestly answer these questions :
1. How often or well do we acknowledge progress ; small or big
2. How often or well do we encourage our team or team members to pause long enough to learn, grow and enjoy the process rather than focus on results. Is it all about deadlines, speed, or targets.
3. Do we rush to the rescue, shame , blame or conveniently deflect when things go wrong .
The tools you require to influence your team positively will be as clear as the answers or thoughts these 3 questions provide.
Thank you Dan for sharing .
One of the scariest things we have to learn in life is how to admit to our mistakes. One of the most liberating things we can learn in life is how to admit to our mistakes. Why should we admit to our mistakes? Isn’t a leader who makes mistakes weak and ineffectual? Isn’t it important for a leader to at least “appear” to be infallible?
We are all familiar with the “stages of grief” after making an error: guilt, shame, denial, blame, bluster, as well as the eventual secrecy. When we make a mistake, we may ruminate about it, endure sleepless nights and get into conflict about it. However, when we learn to admit our mistakes, we can cut off the process at the guilt or shame stage (or even before). We do not have to waste our energy rationalizing or defending the error. We do not have to exert efforts to hide the mistake. We do not need to stress about getting into conflicts about the mistake. Ergo, owning up to mistakes is hard, but liberating. It gets things out into the open, and provides an opportunity to learn, correct and move on.
On the flip side, it is necessary to create a culture where owning up to mistakes is encouraged and comfortable to do. It must be made clear that those who admit mistakes will not be exposed to ridicule or public punishment. Learning about other’s mistakes must be seen as an opportunity to grow and improve. What about a brief weekly get-together to chat about mistakes we made an what we learned about it. At the same time, we can discuss what we did really well, and what we learned from that.
Admitting to your mistakes does not mean that you are weak. It does not mean that there will be no consequences. Admitting an error is not the same as laughing it off; one has to do better the next time. Still, how hard is it to say, “Oops! My bad. I have to try again.”?