The Power of Mistakes

Posted on October 9th, 2017 by John Hackett

Mistakes are powerful tools for learning and growth or dissension and regression in all human endeavors.

The University of California Irvine Admissions Office must have been jubilant in early July – admission “numbers” were way up. Then comes mid-July, and “numbers” are too good! They don’t have room for all these “numbers.” The office chose to enforce a little-used rule about final transcripts to rescind admission to 499 incoming students. Simple decisions are usually problematic. This one was for two reasons: the “numbers “are people with dreams and hopes and second, the policy has rarely been used. The decision and its impact went viral. This bad news spread quickly…

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The university administration defended its actions by blaming the now denied students and their high schools for not sending the final transcripts. Blaming others rarely works. It didn’t here either. The sad stories multiplied until Howard Gillman, Chancellor of the University, reversed the first decision and apologized in an open letter, acknowledged fault, and admitted all the students who were eligible immediately.

The Power of Mistakes

What’s to be learned from this sad and avoidable mistake:

  1. We are all human. We always have to remember that our decisions may affect many people.
  2. In all relationships, errors occur. The key is how we respond, not react to them, and what we learn.
  3. The absolute value of a more deliberate response to consultation and coaching…the use of coaches and mentors in this situation may have provided a different perspective and response.

I have used a simple formula that works well.

  • Fess up. Be transparent, forget excuses, offer authentic apologies.
  • Fix Up. Remedy the situation as best as possible for all parties involved. Make sure all involved are heard. Learn and revise and refine the policy, procedure, etc. to better address possible issues for the future.
  • Move on. Be transparent about the changes and incorporate them into your culture moving forward.

Every decision we make as leaders affects people. It is wise to consider using all your resources as we work with each other. People are not numbers, and we are fallible people doing our best at work, home, church, etc.

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About the Author

John Hackett, Ed.D is an accomplished and experienced coach, trainer, and leader in a variety of nonprofit and direct sales settings. He has 45 years of professional experience serving as professor, licensed counselor, and high school administrator, as well as a university administrator. John is a DSWA Certified Trainer and can be reached at