Notice, I didn’t title the blog, “My Mistakes.” There are too many for me to list all of them. Instead, I’ll focus on my biggest mistakes, which could have been titled “My Worst Mistakes.” The metric I’m using is the mistakes for which I have the greatest regrets.
In Why It Matters I cite several mistakes I made, including the University of Arkansas Press debacle, the bungled firing of Facilities Management personnel, the unfortunate timing of the firing of UA’s men’s basketball coach, Nolan Richardson, and three mistakes in hiring his successors: Dana Altman, Stan Heath, and John Pelphrey. Many more mistakes could have been included in the book. However, these mistakes serve to identify root causes for my biggest mistakes.
The root cause for many of my mistakes while serving as UA’s chancellor was my failure to listen expansively. Specifically, I didn’t listen to as many people as I should have. When everyone you consult agrees, you haven’t consulted enough people. I shouldn’t have decided to close the University of Arkansas Press without hearing from those who would oppose such a decision. As Schneider National’s Chris Lofgren told students in the leadership class, “No matter how thin the pancake, it has two sides.” I didn’t hear from “the other side.” It’s rare for a change to occur without someone opposing it. I should have made sure I heard from the opposition before making my decision.
Another root cause for my mistakes was a failure to act quickly after making my decision. Delaying informing Nolan Richardson of my decision led to turmoil that, I believe, could have been avoided. What I didn’t include in the book were examples of me not removing people from their positions as quickly as I should have when I knew they weren’t effective. Several guest leaders told students in the leadership class that, if they had it to do over again, they would have acted sooner and they would’ve relied more on instinct and gut feelings. As Motorola’s Greg Brown said, “When you think you know, you know.”
The final root cause I’ll mention is my failure to follow up, to “trust but verify.” I relied on people doing what they said they would do without following up to make sure they were true to their word. I mistakenly led people like I wanted to be led. It took me too long to recognize not everyone can be counted on to stay the course and finish the job. I was a visionary, but not a good administrator. We would’ve accomplished far more if I’d paid more attention to the performances of my team members.
I’ve shared my biggest mistakes. Think about yours. Making mistakes is one thing, repeating them is another. Be brutally honest with yourself. Doing so should equip you to avoid repeating them. However, you’ll still make mistakes. Everyone does!
When you make mistakes, admit it. Correct them and move on. Don’t blame someone else. Don’t attempt to cover them up.