Some mistakes are unforgivable, but the vast majority are great opportunities for improvement — if we acknowledge them.

If you’re a good boss, you want your people to grow. You understand honest mistakes happen, and that the important thing is we learn from them and do better the next time. You don’t punish or berate people when something goes wrong, you figure out how to improve.

So why are your employees still downplaying, hiding, or excusing their mistakes? That’s been the question on my mind for the last few weeks.

I’m Mr. Growth mindset. Almost every day I tell someone, “The important thing is we learn from this and improve in the future.” But the fixed mindset is a stubborn thing, and people are reluctant to admit mistakes, especially to their boss. I was getting frustrated, trying to think if there was anything I was doing to cause this. I came up empty. That’s when I realized I didn’t have to be doing anything to push people towards a fixed mindset:

The fixed mindset is the natural state for an employee when talking to the boss

The Answer: Let me tell you about a time I felt like an idiot…

In a meeting with my managers I was on my usual growth mindset soapbox when someone said, “What can we do to encourage being more open about mistakes?” And that’s when it hit me, like things that should be totally obvious but somehow you never thought of it tend to hit you — Let’s go around and talk about a time we messed up.

I went first, confessing about sifting through call logs to keep tabs on an employee, getting an incomplete picture of what he was doing, and then feeling like an idiot when I finally talked to him and found out he had been doing more than what I thought.

My lesson learned— don’t ever go into “investigator mode” as a manager. Talk to your people.

In the next 20 minutes a few more people shared. It was productive on a few fronts. We discussed some specific issues and how we can deal with them, which was great. But more importantly it brought us closer together, and I had employees openly discussing things they had struggled with or done wrong.

Put it into practice

Obviously you can take things too far talking about mistakes you’ve made, but I think it’s healthy to set out to share at least one mistake you’ve made or challenge you’ve faced every day. And make sure you’ve shared at least one with each person you manage every month.

It’s the best thing I’ve found so far to help people embrace the growth mindset even when in front of the boss.

Speaking of mistakes, Twitter is full of them. Follow me there @adamfeil.

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers

Educational Psychology Ph.D., business analytics nerd, computer scientist, President @MakeStickers