A few weeks ago comedian Steve Harvey committed one of the greatest gaffes you’ll ever see on live television. After an afternoon of stellar hosting as the Miss Universe contest on CBS neared its end he had one job left to do- declare the winner. That’s where it all went wrong. In a moment that will live on forever in Youtube infamy, Mr. Harvey announced the actual runner-up Miss Colombia as the winner.
Making matters worse, he didn’t realize his mistake right away. Instead the crown was given, the confetti was released, and the tears were shed as Miss Colombia enjoyed a precious few moments as Miss Universe.
It was then as the confetti continued to fall that Mr. Harvey reappeared and the fateful words were uttered. “O.K. folks, I have to apologize.” He went on to admit that the wrong contestant had been rewarded the title of Miss Universe. Then in an emotionally tumultuous moment the crown was taken from Miss Colombia and given to Miss Philippines before the telecast concluded.
While my primary reaction as I watched the clip later that evening was befuddled amusement, in the days that have since passed I’ve developed more and more respect for how Mr. Harvey handled himself.
In handling the situation as he did, Mr. Harvey evocatively demonstrated one of the core components of effective leadership. He was willing to own his mistake.
Can you imagine being in his shoes in that moment? You’ve just made an incredibly impactful mistake that’s being broadcast around the world to tens of millions of viewers. What do you do? I don’t know about you, but I think I’d probably start to make excuses.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened folks…”
“The card I was given was poorly designed, and you really couldn’t tell who the winner was supposed to be…”
“The lighting kept me from reading the card properly…”
Each of these were things that Mr. Harvey reasonably could have said. Excuses that he easily could have made. But he didn’t. He made the rarest of choices. Instead of running from his mistake, he owned it. Instead of making excuses for his performance, he apologized for it. Instead of blame shifting, he accepted responsibility as he shared,
“Let me take control of this. This is exactly what is on the card. I will take responsibility for this. It is my mistake.”
When’s the last time you so bluntly admitted to a mistake like that? When I first took on my leadership role at Faith Baptist, I struggled to admit to mistakes. As a 23 year old pastor I felt like I had to pretend to be smarter than I was in order to have my leadership be accepted and affirmed.
Looking back I can see I equated admissions of error with signs of weakness, I saw them as neon signs blaring “Rookie leader!” So I did my best to avoid the admission of error at any and all cost.
As I reflect on that time now I can’t help but cringe a bit. Because the truth is failing to own your mistakes doesn’t mean you’re failing to make them, it just means you’re failing to learn from them.
One of the hardest but most important things I’ve had to learn to do as a leader since then is to embrace my mistakes, not run from them. I’ve learned that if you’re going to do this effectively as a leader you’ll have to be intentional about it. No one likes to bring the boss bad news! To that end I’ve invited others into my life who have full permission to correct me when I’m wrong, and done my best to structure regular times of formal and informal review into my leadership role.
Learning to own my mistakes instead of run from them hasn’t been easy, but embracing the truth of God’s Word has made it possible.
Pastor Tim Keller has memorably said that the two great desires of the human heart are to be fully known and fully loved. Unfortunately in our world we will never experience this absolute acceptance we’re yearning for because our great fear is that the more people know us, the less they’ll love us. Thanks be to God though the gospel frees us from this needless fear as it declares that Christ alone fully knows us and loves us- even in and through our mistakes.