Solution Saturday: They Won’t Own Mistakes

Hi Dan,

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

the best way to won mistakes is to share lessons learned

Dear Dealing,

It’s great to see how you connect owning mistakes with growth and learning.

The suggestions that follow center on learning and growth.

Positive passion:

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. 

Three suggestions:

  1. Practice coaching. I wrote three articles that give you an overview of The 10 Practices of Coaching Leaders that might be useful.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

Head on:

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?”

Three questions:

  1. What might we do that makes it more comfortable for others to share what their learning from mistakes?
  2. What are you learning from mistakes?
  3. 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

banner inc magazine top 50 leadership and management expert