Turning errors into coachable moments

By Chris Galloway

I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.” Benjamin Franklin famously said these words, among others. And be it a test, or a project, or even just a single workday in the field, his adage remains true to its meaning. To put it simply, it’s entirely up to you how you interpret your failures. They can be the things that make you stop trying or they can be the light that illuminates the path to your success.

Construction work doesn’t occur within a vacuum. Most of all, your employees aren’t mere robots that are designed to execute a single task efficiently and perfectly. More than likely, they carry with them multiple expertise from across several disciplines. They bring with that knowledge their individual personalities and imperfections. Failing to learn from challenging situations is a highly unsustainable way to work a jobsite. With that said, how do you turn a mistake or a miscommunication into a coachable moment? Here are five ways to foster a coachable moment.


Failure is one thing, but what can make a break a jobsite is an abject failure to completely understand the severity of a problem before reporting it. One of the most common reasons your employees or team members become poor (or dishonest) communicators is due to a fearful crew. If you see these types of problems pop up, then you should consider if someone in your leadership has a short fuse or an explosive personality.

Instead of letting tempers go wild, try and cultivate an atmosphere where it’s okay to fail or make mistakes as long as those problems are clearly communicated. The last thing you want is to receive that heart-sinking, last-minute “the problem is worse than we thought” report from a team member. Worse yet, is if the problem wasn’t honestly reported due to a culture of intimidation.


You’re the leader of your crew. Part of that privilege is sharing your crew’s success and keeping the failure for yourself. Whether you’re a supervisor, foreman, or even the CEO of a firm, it’s important to your team to hear your words of encouragement amid failure.

Own up to the mistakes so that the rest of your team dares to persevere. “Take one for the team” is a badge of honor and is an essential part of great leadership.

Chuck Szofer, a Field Supervisor out of North Carolina, remembers when he took charge of a bad situation and saved not only the day, but his crew’s morale.

“We made it to the job site for the day only to realize all of our trucks hauling the air compressors were not on-site that day. They were too far away to go and get them. We primarily use the air compressors for our jackhammers, so everyone was frustrated that they’d be inoperative for an entire day.

However, I remembered driving by a rental yard on my way to the site a bunch of times. I gave them a call and to my surprise, they had a bunch of gas-powered jackhammers to rent. We took two trucks over and grabbed their entire stock. Not only did we not miss out of a day of work but we realized gas-powered jackhammers are far more portable than our usual ones. You know what they say about lemons and lemonade.”


Part of nurturing a healthy environment on the jobsite is to be transparent about your own mistakes when you make them. After all, none of us are perfect. Inspiration comes from many sources, but having an accessible, fallible leader is a major one.

Enlightened leadership isn’t created through perfection. It’s the opposite—a crew will be more willing to follow in your footsteps if they can see that you’re just like they are and unafraid to show it.


On a jobsite, things move quickly. Before you know it, a mistake can come and go so fast that it was never properly addressed. While it’s great to forge ahead, it’s also important to learn from challenging situations. If you let them pass by then you run the risk of repeated failure.

When mistakes happen in the field, identify what went wrong with your crew. Have an open dialogue and let everyone say their piece. Afterword, come up with a new process to avoid that problem in the future. Not only will you empower your team but you’ll find systematic weak points in the process. However, if you delay in having a constructive forum to discuss the failure with your team, then you’ll find it less and less easy to bring the matter up in the future.


Winston Churchill, like Benjamin Franklin, was an individual full of wisdom and humanity. And he has a famous and timeless quote about failure, which he was no stranger to. “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”


It may be difficult to take a deep breath in the middle of failure but it’s worth remembering that all failures are opportunities. Jobsites, like no other work environment, are recipes for miscommunication. But so too are the places to learn through doing, seeing, and failing. If you persevere, don’t get too caught up in the moment, and cultivate a culture of courage and transparency, then you’ll find that every failure is a coachable moment, large and small.

About the author:

Contractor Chris Galloway is the owner of U.S. Hammer, an American equipment manufacturing company that designs and builds highly efficient breakers and impactors for construction and other industries.

Modern Contractor Solutions, January 2020
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