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Mark McGwire, Project Management, and Coming Clean

Why don't people just fess up when caught?
Jan | 13 | 2010

Jan | 13 | 2010

It’s hard to not hear about major events in today’s 24/7 news cycle, whether you want to or not. I can’t say that I’m a Paris Hilton fan but it’s really hard for me not to hear about her current adventures. By the same token, I doubt that even those indifferent to sports did not hear about Mark McGwire’s recent (if belated) admission that he took steroids during his halcyon home run hitting years.

The point of this post is not to excoriate McGwire for doing wrong. He was hardly the only guy to shoot up in baseball, much less all sports. Rather, I’d like to take a deeper look at his apology as it relates to project management and the corporate world.

McGwire’s apology was no doubt sincere but was equipped with an infuriating disclaimer. He did it “for health purposes.”


For a transcript of the interview, click here.


Why don’t people just fess up when they are caught?  I like to think that we live in a forgiving society. While coming clean is laudable, it’s hard for me to get over McGwire’s disclaimer. The whole thing me of a recent incident in which someone dropped the ball on an IT project and offered a similar excuse-laden apology.

To make a long story short, on the penultimate day of a consulting engagement, the project manager (PM) literally dropped ten custom report requests on my desk that I had requested several times over a three month span. Oh, did I mention that I was in the middle of another crisis at the time with production data?

The PM apologized but quickly added that “he knew that these reports were ad hoc, not ‘enterprise’ reports.”


Don’t worry. I didn’t understand the distinction either.

Now, I have been writing reports out of enterprise systems for nearly fifteen years. There are all sorts of reports from all sorts of tools but dropping the ball is dropping the ball. Period. That’s it. Don’t try to bullshit me on this. (Incidentally, most of these were actually relatively easy reports to create but there was no way for the PM to have known this. In any event, to sit on important tasks for more than two months and then expect someone to save the day at the last minute represents a horrible work ethic for anyone, much less a PM who’s supposed to show leadership to the rest of the organization.)

Simon Says

When you screw up in baseball or the corporate world, just call a spade a spade. Equivocating merely increases the amount of damage that you’ve done to your credibility and reputation. I understand the need to save face. Really, I do. However, providing excuses only rubs salt in the wound and minimizes any benefit of the doubt that others will grant you.


What do you think? Do excuses irritate you as much?

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  1. Dalton Cervo

    Hi Phil,

    Great posting! I have also been in situations at work where people simply won’t admit their fault. It is certainly one of my biggest pet peeves.

    I think there are 2 general categories, and I’m not sure which one I dislike more. One of them is when people know they made a mistake, but as you say, don’t want to admit “mea culpa.” There is also the other category when people make a mistake, but they are totally clueless about it and its consequences. Just like that one person that cuts you in traffic without seeing it. They move on with their lives like nothing happened, and you’re left pretty upset about it. No, I won’t chase and scream at them, but I still get upset.

    Same at work, sometimes you know exactly who messed up, and you just want to tell them because they move on like nothing happened. That’s where accountability becomes important, not for the sake of pointing fingers, but just to avoid repeating the problem in the future. But if accountability is not serious, you end up with a pretty bad taste in your mouth.

    But I agree with you, if you know you did it, just say it!!


  2. philsimon

    Thanks for the comment, Dalton. There’s very little worse–or more infuriating–than those who don’t just accept responsibility. While politics might make it tough to swallow, I have a great deal of respect for those that fall on the sword and take their medicine.

  3. Jim Harris

    Ah, yes – the old “I took steroids to recover from my injuries and help my team” excuse – hmmm…isn’t that the same excuse that Andy Pettitte used?

    (Disclaimer: I am a card carrying member of Red Sox Nation.)

    As far as whether or not, PEDs help you hit a baseball – maybe, McCryBaby has a point, it doesn’t improve your hand-eye coordination, but Juan Pierre (using one example among countless others) has great hand-eye coordination – but he is a perennial slapping singles hitter. Put JP on the juice and he would be Juan “Gone” Pierre in no time – maybe not, but still, no help other than injury recovery?

    Perhaps I have simply become jaded by the persuasiveness of the PED-problem in professional sports, as well as the stupidity of their drug enforcement policies. After all, wasn’t McGwire a paid spokesman for Androgen long before it was put on the “banned substances” list and long before he “started having injury problems” that lead him to make a “decision he now regrets” – WTF?

    Paraphrasing an old hip hop cliché – Russell Simmons, I expect tee shirts and hats ready by spring training – “clean” homerun hitters should start sporting gear with the phrase:

    “I’m not a steroid user – I just crush a lot.”

    P.S. The Boston Red Sox have won more World Series championships this century than the New York Yankees.

  4. William Sharp

    I love it, Phil! Nothing like the power of “sorry I made a mistake”. I mean it happens, right? I’ve gained confidence from clients when I admit my wrong doing. It says something about how much you can be trusted. Not to mention, we can all tell when someone is saving face. To me, it’s tedious when this happens. I think clients feel the same way too!
    Great post!

  5. Slider

    Look, I think you’re off base here. There are a lot of reasons why people may appear to drop the ball but are really just responding to the ill specified priority of your requests. If you are handing something adhoc to a project manager, as in, out-of-the-norm or out-of-scope or maybe even, bro-do-me-a-solid, it doesn’t make him responsible just because he’s a resource and all-important-you assigned it to him. Your experience with this is clear but maybe your expectations of what is adequate is yet unclear or at best, unspecified. Yes, mistakes happen, but it doesn’t make you any less accountable because the scope did creepily creep. If you lack empathy, you might as well go have a drink and relax.


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