Lessons from Steve Harvey & His Big Miss Universe Mistake

by Bob Hutchins December 22, 2015
December 22, 2015

Remember Southwest Airline’s old “Wanna Get Away?” commercials? The ones that perfectly captured life’s most-embarrassing moments in a way that put your insides in knots? In the TV spots, those embarrassing situations, as cringe-worthy as they could be, were at least limited to a small, private audience, right?

…nothing on the… Steve Harvey scale… of most-embarrassing moments.

Last night, Harvey made one of the biggest goofs of live television. In a moment that confused contestants, viewers, and (clearly) Harvey, himself, he crowned Miss Columbia as Miss Universe 2015. There was just one problem: she wasn’t the winner. In an awkward turn-of-events, Harvey comes back out on stage to say, “Okay, folks, I have to apologize: the first runner-up is Columbia… Miss Universe 2015 is Philippines.”



Take Responsibility. Own the Mistake.

While the mistake was terrible, Harvey did his best to fix the situation immediately. And, for that, he gets credit. Without so much as a quick commercial break, Harvey is sent back out on stage by a producer, where he addresses the raucous mix of boos and cheers:

“Listen, folks, let me just take control for this. This is exactly what’s on the card. I will take responsibility for this. It was my mistake. It was on the card. Horrible mistake, but the right thing. I can show it to you right here. [He holds up his prompt card.] The first runner-up is Columbia. It is my mistake. Still a great night. Please don’t hold it against the ladies. Please don’t. We feel so badly, but it’s still a great night. Thank you all.”

Harvey quickly went to Facebook, where he issued this apology:

On Twitter, he has issued three apologies to date. The first one:

Sure, Harvey made a mistake. A big, public one. But he deserves a lot of respect for how he handled the situation. He didn’t shift blame, duck out of an awkward situation, or over-explain himself to the point of further embarrassment. Rather, he handled the Miss Universe error in a way that was honest, responsible, and ultimately brings more credit to his name than before last night.

While there are plenty of nasty comments and hurtful memes floating around the internet this Monday, Harvey’s mistake has also generated a lot of positive response. The reason why, I think, is simple. People can recognize that…

  • Harvey’s intentions were good.
  • His mistake was honest
  • And his apology was sincere.

When the apology is honest and from the heart, people are willing to accept it and embrace the person. Ultimately, human beings are willing to forgive and to accept the errors that are just a part of our nature. What they won’t accept is repeatedly lying or denying responsibility.

Genuine, Human Communication Will Always Win.

In my upcoming book, Finally Human, I discuss many instances in digital communications and social media where genuine words and actions lead to success. It’s basic stuff that your parents probably taught you as a child, but so many individuals and companies lose hold of these fundamental principles when they step into the public sphere–whether that’s online, on TV, in advertising, or elsewhere. When you find yourself between a rock and a hard place, do the right thing–even if it sounds like the hardest thing in the world to do–and you won’t regret it. Thanks, Steve Harvey, for setting the bar high today.

Remember: it’s not our mistakes that define us; it’s how we handle them.

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