By Tim Hayes []

Bad stuff happens.  Some of it’s foreseeable, but most of the lousy breaks come at us unannounced, and before you know it the boat’s been swamped and you’re flailing in the water looking for dry land.

The BP oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico caught the giant corporation off guard, and it’s been nearly two months with no clear end in sight to the gusher that’s despoiling aquatic life and soon much of the U.S. southern coastlands.

Having worked at companies that create environmental impacts, I believe BP when it says the last thing they wanted was to have this disaster happen – and that they are trying everything they can to stop it and clean it up.  Huge companies like that do care about their impact on the environment because it’s important to their ability to remain in business, to generate profits for their shareholders, to provide ongoing employment to their people, to pay taxes to local, state, and federal governments, and to supply products to their customers.  It has become sadly apparent, though, that BP has been plagued by good intentions and poor execution.

That’s why the messages being crafted and delivered by BP leaders has become so vital.  With each day the deep sea oil continues to pollute the Gulf, BP’s credibility becomes more strained.  If the company has any hope of holding on to its investors and its customers, we need to have some shred of faith in what it says – because we’re rapidly losing faith in what it does.

So when BP’s CEO Tony Hayward said on NBC last Sunday, as he began to offer an apology to residents of the Gulf region, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do…I’d like my life back.” – the firestorm erupted.  Talk about the exact wrong message.  There has been loss of life, millions of gallons of crude oil washing up on previously pristine and highly valued resort destinations, promises and pledges and a deepening sense of disappointment and disaster.  And the CEO just wants his life back?

Hayward has since apologized, acknowledging the insensitivity and insulting tone of his verbal slip-up.  But the truest qualities of people come out most when the heat is on.  We may have gotten a glimpse into the heart of BP’s top man the other day, and it’s not the most reassuring view.

On the other hand, we saw the heart of another man who made a monumental mistake this week, but who shouldered the blame, expressed sincere remorse, and offered an example of accountability, fortitude, and gratitude for the forgiveness he received.  Major League Baseball umpire Jim Joyce called a runner safe at first base when he clearly was out on the replay.  That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that the play would have been the final out of a perfect game as pitched by Detroit Tiger pitcher Armondo Galarraga – only the 21st perfect game in baseball history.

Joyce was inconsolable after the game, realizing what his blown call meant to the pitcher and to the game.  He said, “I missed it, I missed it…I took a perfect game away from that kid over there who worked his ass off all night…This wasn’t just any call, this was a history call, and I kicked the s*** out of it…If I had been Galarraga I would have been the first one out there, but he didn’t say a word, not a word.”

Joyce still felt bad the next night, when he worked home plate.  In a classy moment, Galarraga brought the team’s starting lineup card out to the teary-eyed Joyce at home plate and shook his hand, showing there were no hard feelings. 

Grace or selfishness?  Class or self-pity?  Don’t tell me that messages delivered during bad moments don’t matter or can’t be helped.  The severity of the two instances couldn’t be farther apart, of course.  But if adversity brings out character, we saw two terrific examples this week.

Copyright 2010 Tim Hayes Consulting