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What Leaders Can Learn from Steve Harvey’s Mistake

What Leaders Can Learn from Steve Harvey’s Mistake

originally posted on LinkedIn

On Sunday, Steve Harvey made a mistake resulting in one of the most awkward and uncomfortable moments in televised pageant history. At the end of the Miss Universe Pageant, instead of announcing Miss Philippines as the winner, he announced Miss Colombia (actually the first runner up) who was crowned, received a sash, took her victory walk, for it all to come to a screeching halt when Harvey announced he had announced the wrong person. Many leaders can relate to the blunder. And if they can't, chances are, they will experience embarrassment, a poor decision or foot-in-mouth moment at some point. But how they handle the situation is often times much more important than the mishap itself.

Here are a few things that Steve Harvey did right that leaders can learn from:

1. Correct what happened, as quickly as possible. In this situation, when he noticed that he had announced the first runner up as the winner, Steve Harvey asked officials if he had made the mistake he thought he did and rectified the problem as quickly as possible. As leaders, we likely won't make a mistake that is televised live around the world, but we may still make a mistake that needs some quick resolution. If you find yourself in a situation that you wish didn't happen, once you realize the mistake, your first course of action should be correction and resolution.

2. Acknowledge and apologize. After announcing the incorrect winner and confirming the winner with officials, Steve Harvey apologized and acknowledged what happened. Immediately apologizing may not have taken the sting away from Miss Colombia or her fans who were cheering her along during her victory walk, but it set the tone that he was truly sorry for what happened.
As leaders, we need to not shy away from saying “I'm sorry” when we do something wrong, even when it is unintentional, and no matter how embarrassing it may be. Understanding what's at stake (trust, reputation, sometimes money) and who may be impacted as a result of our actions can help us express humility during a tough time like this.

3. Be honest. This is not the time to “fudge” what has happened in hopes that it won't sound as bad as it is, or try to pass the blame. As the old saying goes, “what goes around, comes around” and the truth will absolutely come out. Be honest and take responsibility for what happened.

4. Face questions.  In a situation like this, many of us would react in a primal way — fight or flight! And for many of us, that would be flight. But avoiding the public or, in many of our cases, our employees, can result in increased speculation, rumors and anger. It would have been very easy for Steve Harvey to leave the event venue and hide in his hotel room hoping it would all blow over (while watching the YouTube views rapidly increasing). But instead, he attended a press conference and answered the questions that were asked. You can see the press conference here:

5. Respond, don't react. Again, “fight or flight” is a primal response that we should be aware of. And in many cases, “fighting” could be reacting angrily to questions and accusations that arise. When we know what we did was unintentional, this may be very difficult. We may feel attacked and want to respond accordingly. Instead, respond calmly to questions while staying on topic and focused on the right things. For instance, when asked by a reporter if he should have had more training prior to the pageant to prevent this, Steve Harvey essentially said that it was not a lack training that caused this to happen, he just made an honest mistake. He communicated how he felt horrible about what happened and for the women involved. He also brought it back to the end result: “It has never happened before, and it may not happen again. But the right person was crowned Miss Universe.”

You can find the video of the cringing announcement here:


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