by Bill, Leadership

Cleaning Up Other People’s Messes is a Morale Buster

4 Comments 20 December 2009

On the first passing play of the game against the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans quarterback, Vince Evans’ under-thrown pass was intercepted. Frequently in such cases, the quarterback, in an effort to avoid injury, will lamely try to get in the way of the run-back by the opposing player, if not avoid contact altogether. To his credit, Evans, whose game status was uncertain due to an injury, drew a bead on the interceptor and leveled him with a hard tackle. In other words, he cleaned up his mistake.

Too often, I see people being expected to clean up the messes made by others. Granted, sometimes it’s necessary, but on way too regular a basis, it happens as the rule rather than the exception. When that occurs, two things happen:

  1. The behavior by the “mess-maker” is effectively rewarded by the lack of accountability.
  2. The individual and collective spirit of those who clean up the mess suffers a punch in the gut.

It has happened to us all, and every time it is dispiriting, especially when the mess maker scampers away unscathed.

It is especially irksome when the mess-maker is a team leader, as Young is. Though his action may have risked his longevity as a player, it did his stature as a team leader a world of good. The next time he asks a teammate (or the entire team) to suck it up and go the extra mile, he’ll be operating with the benefit of the doubt.

What about you? Are you having the difficult conversations and requiring mess-makers to participate in the cleanup, or are you taking the chicken way out? Worse yet, are you expecting people on your team to pay for your mistakes? And, when it just can’t be helped and you must ask a person to clean up someone else’s problem, are you at least showing appreciation? I hope so.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at, or follow him on Twitter at


- who has written 239 posts on Contented Cows.

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4 Comments so far

  1. Whoa! What a great blog post and very informative. Kudos on a job well done.

  2. MD Shopmy says:

    Best article, lots of intersting things to digest. Very informative

  3. Mike Cook says:

    Dear Mr. Bill: I am afraid at times our age does show, in this case your 12/20 post confuses the current Tennessee Titan Quarterback Vince Young with another player from an era gone by, Vince Evans, former NFL, USFL then NFL quarterback. But your point was a good one. Thanks for using the story to make distinguish that accountability extends beyond action to responsibility for consequences.

  4. Thanks for the helpful post! I wouldnt have gotten this on my own!

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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