Friday, June 04, 2010

Irrevocable Mistakes at Work

By now, whether you are a Sports Center addict or not, you have seen the call by umpire Jim Joyce that cost Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game with only one out to go.

Talk about a bummer both ways, this was definitely a classic.

On the other hand, once you get past the emotion you feel for both men, if you followed what happened after the call and the next day, you also had a chance to experience a different emotion, or at least I did, and that was one of admiration and respect.

Admiration for the way that Jim Joyce expressed his regret and admiration for the way in which Galarraga handled himself. The scene of him handing the lineup card to Joyce the following day and the emotion shown by Joyce was a "special moment" and one which at least does something to restore one's faith in how people can deal with each other even under tough circumstances.

There are some who might well argue that the situation that developed in a baseball game is hardly of the same magnitude as some of the situations that surface between managers and employees at work. They might say that this is not a "game" and at work, these situations can come down to being about people's livelihood.

How people choose to react when faced with major disappointment is an interesting question, be it on the field of play or in the office. If you get a chance, read GL Hoffman's post which prompted the title of this entry: Irrevocable Mistakes at Work.

In it he asks us our opinion of whether or not Joyce's "mistake" is one which should cost him his job. My opinion was that it shouldn't, but GL's post also made me think of the dynamics of the interactions between manager and subordinate. It reminded me again of how critical a role behavioral choices have in that relationship.

While Joyce and Galarraga didn't have a direct supervisor/employee relationship, the fact that he was an umpire gives him the upper hand in terms of who has the POWER in the relationship. The same is true of the balance of power between manager and subordinate.

The big learning that I took away from the way Joyce handled himself by immediately taking responsibility, apologizing, and most importantly, acknowledge how deep his empathy was for Galarraga I believe made a huge difference in how not only Galarraga reacted but how his teammates and the public reacted.

Move this to the workplace, and I think many of the same elements can have an enormous impact on a team's productivity. As the saying goes we all make mistakes and that most certainly includes those in leadership roles.

How quickly the organization recovers and moves on is, I believe, in direct proportion to how the organization views our behavior following the incident.

Said differently, I think the real "irrevocable" mistake is failure to take responsibility. When you are most vulnerable is when people see your real value system surface and if they are comfortable with that, more often than not they will be looking for ways to help you, not hurt you.


Anonymous said...

You are making a better point with this than I did with the original post. Thanks Dave.

GL Hoffman

Scott Kingsley said...

Very sage advice and yet so counter intuitive for nearly everyone. These moments are how you lose or gain credibility and unfortunately most people take the, "I'm in charge" route, when owning your goof more accurately shows how you ARE in charge. We need to model more, direct less in these crazy times. That's why I think both of these individuals are being so talked about right now. Their actions towards each other have spoken volumes compared to their sincere words to the press.

Scott Kingsley

Dave Opton said...


Vwey well said, and obviously I couldn't agree with you more, and I am sure that for those others of us who have been fortunate enough to have such a boss at some point in our careers - they too would agree.

Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.