Rookie Mistakes, Volume 1: “Been There, Done That!”

When I think about the situation which merits a place in the “Rookie Mistakes” portion of this blog, Chris Webber comes to mind. You may be old enough to remember watching the infamous incident involving this former member of the “Fab Five” live. Or you may have seen the incident recently on ESPN’s “30 for 30” series.

It was 1993. Webber and his University of Michigan Wolverines were playing in the NCAA championship game. This group of young men; Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, had quickly become legends. Touted by some as the greatest class ever recruited, five freshman basketball players soon gelled into an iconic starting lineup for the powerhouse basket ball program. They reached the national championship game in 1992, and lost a heartbreaker to Duke.

The Fab Five’s popularity and success swelled, and soon they were back in the Final Four and playing for the 1993 title. With 11 seconds left in the final game of the season, the Wolverines are down 73-71. Webber calls a time-out. Problem was, there were no time-outs remaining. Michigan is charged with a technical foul. North Carolina clinches the title. With the game on the line, Chris Webber made a massive strategic blunder.

Look in the urban dictionary under “rookie mistakes,” and you may find this incident!

Been There, Done That…

As awkward as it can be, we’ve all experienced situations where our lack of experience causes us to crumple under pressure. Or fail to make the right judgment.

I can recall a situation when I fouled up. I was in the first six months as VP of Clinics for a small hospital system, and in my early twenties. Fair to say I was still very green. 

One day I receive a call from a massage therapist at a local physical therapy clinic, offering an afternoon of complimentary 15-minute chair massages for our staff. (Radar going up, anyone?)

I was new to both the organization and the community, and thought it sounded like a great treat for staff and it was free!  Whenever the staff had a break in their busy day, they could plop down and get a nice massage. Lovely! So we calendared a date a few weeks out.

It couldn’t have been more than a week later, when I happened to be in my boss’ (the CEO’s) office at the end of one day discussing other, business-related items. The phone rings. He takes the call. It’s the director of the therapy department at the hospital. She’s livid. As I hear one side of the conversation unfold, light bulbs begin to turn on and bells are ringing in my head. She wants to know why the competition has been granted access to their (and her) referral base. Of course, the hospital has our own PT staff, and this individual offering the free massages is employed by a private practice—in direct competition with us.

I immediately realize that I had not thought this one through. I had overlooked the serious political implications of this arrangement that I had agreed to.

Following the phone call, the CEO conveyed to me what I already knew. And I knew I had to make things right. I immediately went from the systems office to the hospital across town and sought out the rehab department director.

It was embarrassing, but I apologized to her for what was clearly a rookie mistake.

From this I learned that:

  1. There are politics in any organization. You need to consider all parties involved and connections among parties—what’s at stake and who stands to gain–before you leap.
  2. If you do make a mistake (and it’s inevitable that you will—we all do) address it. The worst thing you can do is, well, NOTHING.
  3. Apologize. I’ve talked about the “apology” as art form before. Put your pride on the shelf and, even though it’s awkward and scary, be gracious, forthright and swift in your apology.


In the end, mistakes don’t (have to) define us. It’s how we rebound from our mistakes, and what we learn from them, that represent career-defining moments in the lives of leaders.

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