4 Ways to Stand with People When They Screw Up

Self-serving leaders throw people under the bus. Skillful leaders know that standing with people when they screw up …

  1. Strengthens relationships.
  2. Improves morale.
  3. Inspires trust.
  4. Instills courage.
  5. Deepens commitment.


How to stand with people:

#1. Take the heat.

  1. Own failure, even if you didn’t do it.
  2. Don’t lie and say you did it.
  3. Tell the truth. You are responsible. The only finger-pointing to do is at you.

#2. Honor responsible failure.

A casual attitude about failure is the attitude of losers, but the path to remarkable success is paved with failure and falling short.

People never become their best when you punish responsible failure.

Evaluating failure and adopting next-time-practices isn’t punishment. It’s growth and development.

Responsible failure requires:

  1. Maximum effort to succeed. Low effort isn’t an option.
  2. Clear objectives, goals, and results. You can’t succeed until you know what success looks like.
  3. Plans. If the plan was to improvise, at least you had a plan.
  4. Plans that distill into behaviors. What did you actually do?
  5. Fulfillment of day-to-day responsibilities. Procrastination is irresponsible failure.

#3. Focus on learning.

Treat responsible failure as a learning opportunity. It takes courage and commitment to ask, “What are you/we learning?”

An after action review (AAR) is one way to focus on learning.

  1. What was expected to happen?
  2. What actually occurred?
  3. What went well and why?
  4. What can be improved and how?

#4. Expect capable people to remedy their screw ups.

When the person who screwed up can’t remedy their own mistakes, train them, replace them, reassign them, or redesign their job.

The first question is, “What are you going to do to correct this failure?” (Assuming correction is an option.) If correction isn’t an option, the question is, “What are you going to do differently next time?”

Clarify what doing differently means. You can expect the same results until you do something differently.

How might leaders stand with people who screw up?

What other factors come into play when you think of “responsible” failure?