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Vol. 67: Get it right the first time!

Making one mistake, an umpire shows rare integrity

“Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.” –George Washington Carver

This week I chose to digress from our series on strategic finance to offer a few observations about some powerful leadership lessons threading their way through recent headlines.

It’s mind-boggling how many repeat offenders of the “cover-up” appear in the headlines every week, denying the indiscretions that inevitably lead to slow, tortuous “uncovering.” Watergate fostered the relentless pursuit by the media of anything they rhymes with “lie and deny,” and Woodward and Bernstein launched plenty of investigative journalist careers when the Watergate secrets led to the downfall of the Nixon presidency. More recently, the political cover-ups, void of any sense of personal accountability, continue ad nauseum with a cast ranging from John Edwards to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, the Catholic Church, etc.

Umpire Jim Joyce

Distrust and suspicion for the motives and intentions of public figures abounds. Bernadette Peters was recently called out during the Tony Awards as the only BP that’s not destroying the environment. BP’s failures resonate more loudly because it omitted critical mea culpa language, spelling the likely death knell for its reputation as its situation deteriorates every day.

Their attitude and comments have been devoured by a suspicious public that believes BP has not taken the oil spill seriously. Instead, BP ignited an irreversible media firestorm because it hesitated, then hedged about what is clearly the largest environmental disaster in American history.

Contrast this with the extraordinary personification of accountability by umpire Jim Joyce in the controversial call made on the third out in the ninth inning of the perfect game almost pitched by Armando Galarraga in Detroit on June 2.

Mr. Joyce overcame overwhelming animosity and disgust over his flubbed call by immediately and publicly acknowledging his error and facing the media head first, speaking candidly about a call that he clearly missed: “This isn’t a big call, this is a history call. And I kicked the s— out of it. There’s nobody that feels worse than I do. I take pride in this job, and I kicked the s— out of that call and I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his a– off all night.”

Mr. Joyce didn’t hesitate or hedge or attempt to invoke the tricks and techniques that have toppled so many public figures. The alacrity with which he took full responsibility immediately turned a bitter and acrimonious episode into a bittersweet victory of integrity that is unparalleled among public figures.

Nothing could more powerfully illustrate the public’s appetite and respect for true accountability than the standing ovation Mr. Joyce received when he took the field in Detroit to umpire the game the very next evening. (Just as impressively, Mr. Galarraga could not have been more graceful in accepting Joyce’ apology, conducting himself with extraordinary aplomb and dignity in the face of a crushing disappointment.)

Jim Joyce personifies the concept of personal accountability. Moreover, he wasn’t just playing us but genuinely regretted his error and took immediate and unequivocal responsibility for the call. His integrity put him ahead of the curve and turned the story completely around as a great lesson in humility, honesty and accountability. His example is a powerful reminder that you can’t outrun a moving train … so if the train leaves the station and you’re not on it, it’s too late. BP is excoriated daily for failing to get on that train and has been chasing it ever since.

Real integrity can’t be imitated or mimicked, so in many ways, the case of Jim Joyce can’t be replicated. Immediate acceptance of responsibility, however, like McDonald’s recent reaction to the handling of its recall of defective Shrek glasses, can be achieved. The examples of Jim Joyce and McDonald’s stand in stark contrast to the half-hearted acknowledgements by BP or the stonewalling tactics that Goldman Sachs has recently been employing. It turns out that true accountability is always welcome … but too rare.



Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors, Inc., providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership and business strategy and uses the Business Ferret™ framework to help companies use strategic finance to drive improved business performance. Lary also hosts the Exkalibur Leadership Forum for leaders of middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit www.Exkalibur.com for a library of valuable resources, articles and insights or join the Exkalibur fan page on Facebook.


The North Bay Business Journal, a publication of the New York Times, is a weekly business newspaper which I have served as a regular columnist for more than two years. The Business Journal covers the North Bay area of San Francisco – from the Golden Gate bridge north, including the Wine Country of Sonoma and Napa counties.


Article published – June 21, 2010: The electronic version of this article, as published by the North Bay Business Journal, is identical to this post and may be found here.


Any related materials or articles referenced in the published column, or otherwise applicable, are referenced in this digital version of the article.

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