We all make mistakes – it’s practically in our DNA.
Regardless of position, wealth or strength, everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes they are small and harmless ones; sometimes they have much larger consequences. Like the German clerk who dozed off in the middle of transferring €62, with his finger on the ‘2’ key. He ended up transferring €222,222,222.22 instead! Big goof for him, lucky day for the account holder.
Sometimes people goof because of the power they have bestowed on them. You know the saying: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Abuse of power has led to some spectacular goofs in history, but if you think this only applies to presidents or dictators, you’d be wrong.
CEOs, managers, coaches, generals: they all have a degree of influence over people that work with and for them. Abuse of their power leads to people under them getting the short and often sharp end of the stick.
Occasionally, mistakes can be made in good faith, if they felt they were doing the right thing. Flight Lieutenant Ben Plank, in his role as part of the Red Arrows Acrobatic Team, pushed the button to release smoke during an aerobatic display. It turns out he released the wrong color, leading to an off-color aerial display.
Carly Fiorina, the CEO of HP from 1999 to 2005, is known for firing over 30, 000 staff. But before they were booted out, she forced them to train their outsourced replacements. She was eventually given the boot albeit with a $42 million severance package and a clause to never come back to HP.
Sadly, history tends to remember mistakes more readily than good deeds. Here are some cases of leaders making mistakes that cost them jobs, lives and sometimes, even altered the course of history.
10. Bill Clinton
No, this isn’t even about the Lewinsky affair.
Ranked by CNN as the third greatest president of all time, Bill Clinton is considered America’s golden boy. He is a Democratic figure that even Republicans admire.
However, he is complicit in some of the worst disasters of the past two decades. For one, he failed to act on regulating derivatives, which ultimately led to the financial crisis. He is also accused of burying the information that informed him about the impending Rwandan genocide, so that he wouldn’t have to act on it.
But Clinton was responsible for a more hideous crime. In 1998, due to a recent bombing of an American embassy in Nairobi, the US military was on high alert. An American submarine spotted what they thought was a chemical weapons factory. Upon receiving the go-ahead from Mr. President, they launched a missile strike that leveled the building.
However, the building was the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory, a company that produced 60% of the medical supplies for Sudan. Thanks to that strike, Sudan’s ability to treat illnesses like TB, malaria, and meningitis went up in smokes. The resulting epidemic claimed the lives of at least 2, 000 children.
9. General Stanley McChrystal
The son of a US Major, Stanley McChrystal attended West Point and quickly rose through the ranks in the Special Forces. Becoming a highly decorated US general, McChrystal had it all going for him.
As the Director of the Joint Special Operations Command, he was in charge of the Navy Seals, Delta Force, Green Berets and Army Rangers. Despite his outspoken nature, his career was set, especially as the Senate had just approved him to take command of NATO operations in Afghanistan.
In an ill-advised move in 2010, he had a Rolling Stone journalist follow him around for a month. He recorded McChrystal and his staff mocking civilian government officials, all the way up to the President and the VP. Within one day of the article being published online, McChrystal tendered his resignation, which the President duly accepted.
8. Winston Churchill
Labelled the Greatest Briton of all time, Winston Churchill was also considered a master tactician, orator and statesman. A three time Prime Minister, Churchill was also regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of all time.
His skills as a tactician were brought into serious doubt when he proposed the Gallipoli Campaign. His plan involved attacking the Ottoman empire via Dardanelles, in an attempt to open a third front via the Mediterranean.
The attempt failed horribly as the Turks were tipped off from the beginning and they were expecting the invasion. They prepared by fortifying the peninsula with heavy artillery and extra troops. For months, the Allied forces were trapped on an open beach with the Turks firing down on them. Extreme heat, poor sanitation that led to an outbreak of dysentery, a lack of artillery or naval backup: all these things quickly decimated the forces stuck on that beach.
This campaign went down in history as one of the bloodiest ever, with tens of thousands losing their lives on that beach.
7. Gregg Williams
This football coach enters this list for some of the most unsportsmanlike conduct ever. Having coached the Houston Oilers, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and a plethora of other teams in different capacities, Williams was appointed defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints in 2009.
In October 2012, it was revealed that during Williams’ tenure, he ran a fund that paid players to cause injury. These injuries had to be severe enough that the players had to leave the game. The pool was supposed to have started in 2009, the same year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
He gave specific instructions like ordering his defense to tear one receiver’s ACL and to target wide receiver Kyle Williams because he had a history of concussions. Players usually earned $1,000 for “cart-offs” and $1,500 for “knockouts” during the regular season.
When the scandal broke, players from his previous teams all reported that Williams operated similar rackets while working with them. With his role exposed, Williams was suspended by the NFL for eleven months.
6. Dov Charney
Clothing manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer, Dov Charney was fashion’s wunderkind in the 2000s. As the founder of American Apparel at age 20, Charney’s passion for clothing propelled his company to almost cult status.
His reign as CEO was also fraught with controversy such as the 2009 accusation that the company was hiring illegal immigrants for some of their factories. Matters came to a head when he was slammed with accusations regarding abuse of power. He was the subject of several sexual harassment lawsuits by up to six different women. He was also accused of homophobic statements and rubbing dirt on the face of a former store manager.
The board at American Apparel got tired of the negative press and in December 2014, he was terminated as a Chief Executive Officer. In June 2015, American Apparel was granted a restraining order against Charney.
5. Ross Perot
Ross Perot started out trading in horse equipment at a young age under his father’s watchful eye. Perot grew up to be considered as one of the greatest business brains ever. His uncanny business acumen makes one of his decisions quite laughable.
By 1979, Perot was already a billionaire through his Electronic Data Systems company. He was offered the chance to buy a little-known company called Microsoft. The founder of this tiny PC company, Bill Gates, wasn’t so keen to give up his company easily.
What followed was the typical rounds of negotiation involved in any acquisition. But this one ended with Perot rescinding his offer. Microsoft went on to become one of the 21st century’s biggest businesses. One would think Perot had learned the value of persistence; after all it took him 70 tries to gain his first contract with Frito-Lay.
Till date, Perot regards his failure to acquire Microsoft as the “biggest business mistake” he has ever made.
4. Ala ad-Din Muhammad II
This Persian Shah is notorious for starting the Mongol invasion that would eventually culminate in the conquest of virtually all of Eurasia. With the region under high alert, the Shah became paranoid as he felt that spies were traveling on the ancient Silk Road.
To halt their approach, Muhammad ordered that all Mongols found on the Silk Road should be killed. Genghis Khan, a conqueror in his own right, reached out to him to open trade relations. Fearing that they were about to take his kingdom, Muhammad ordered all the emissaries to be killed.
Khan sent another envoy of three high ranking ambassadors. Once again, Muhammad had them killed. These events enraged Khan who launched an attack with around 100, 000 soldiers. The two year campaign that followed led to the complete annihilation of Muhammad’s empire of Khwarezmia.
3. Neville Chamberlain
Britain’s 60th Prime Minister is hailed as a hero by many. He’s best remembered for his appeasement foreign policy, but this policy was also why he was hated by a larger section of the British public.
In 1935, in response to Hitler’s rejection of the “unequal” Versailles Treaty, Britain, under Chamberlain, continued to pander to Hitler. Chamberlain granted Hitler every leeway he could, just to avoid going to war.
Having the British Empire on his side greatly emboldened Hitler. He proceeded to march his army into the demilitarized Rhineland, violating the Treaty of Versailles. As time went on, the German army got stronger and bolder, even gaining allies like Japan, Spain and Italy. Having marched into and claiming Austria and the German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia, Hitler effectively started WWII by invading Poland in 1939.
It was at this point that Britain and France finally declared war on Germany. If only Chamberlain had acted from the onset.
2. Abraham Lincoln
The 16th president of the United States was considered a badass – hero of the South, lawyer by day, vampire hunter by night. But even Honest Abe made a few major goofs.
In November 1862, after repeatedly clashing with General George McClellan, he had him replaced by Ambrose Burnside as the head of the Army of the Potomac. Within five days of resuming office, Burnside drew up a plan to storm the Confederate capital.
The President approved the plan and Burnside led the army into the Battle of Fredericksburg. What followed is regarded as one of the worst defeats at the hands of Confederate Army.
Stuck on the banks of the swollen Rappahannock River, Burnside’s army experienced delays in crossing. By the time they crossed, General Lee was well prepared and proceeded to decimate their forces. It’s estimated that the Yankees lost 13, 000 soldiers in this one-sided assault.
1. Adolf Hitler
As Hitler rose to power, conquering as many countries as he could, the Nazis became worried about their image in the public eye. To counter this, Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels decided to search for the “perfect Aryan” baby to use in propaganda publications.
From a large selection of baby pictures, Goebbels selected one of an angel-faced little girl who had brown hair and dark eyes. The baby had her face splashed on postcards, magazines, and as much propaganda material as they could print.
The irony was that the baby was Jewish, the very race that Hitler was trying to eliminate.
Six month-old Hessy Levinson was chosen from a pile of photos submitted by a Nazi-hating photographer, Hans Ballin. For months the “poster child for the perfect Aryan” was in fact a Jewish child.
This goofing through propaganda didn’t end there. A few years later, to show off the “perfect German soldier”, the Ministry chose the blond-haired, blue-eyed Werner Goldberg. It turns out he was actually half-Jewish.