So What If He Lied About His Degree…

by Carol Anderson, Featured Contributor

THE NEW YORK TIMES ran an article about yet another successful, high profile sports coach who has been caught lying about his credentials. NYT writer Juliet Macur interviewed Coach Steve Masiello a few days prior to the revelation that he had lied about having a college degree. He got caught, as others have, with a background check as he started a new job.

During the interview, Masiello preached accountability and described how he had learned the importance of accountability from an early mentor. So my question is, “what, really, is accountability,” and “to whom is one accountable?”

Masiello is not the first coach to be caught in the same lie, although others seem to have sloughed off the stigma and recovered nicely. Per the article, George O’Leary survived the embarrassment of being proven a liar by Notre Dame only to bounce back and bring the University of Central Florida into the football spotlight.

As Macur reflediploma_hat_graduation_800_clr_8164cted on the interview and the revelation, she was struck by the incongruity of his words. When one statement is a lie, can you believe subsequent statements? Perhaps that’s a rhetorical question; perhaps not.

There are 51 comments on the article. What baffles me is that the comments are so diverse. Many call Masiello “scum,” “slimy,” and “fraud.” Others completely missed the crux, and disputed facts having nothing to do with Masiello. Still others didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I find that baffling. There was one comment that stood out to me.

“What are you people upset about? That he didn’t have a degree or that he lied about it? Everyone lies. He just happened to get caught. Lack of a degree didn’t seem to hamper Gates or Jobs, did it?”

Oh my. I guess I had a hunch that people felt that way, but to write it for the world to see? That’s a bit frightening. He’s still missing the point….it isn’t the degree that is at issue, it is that he said he had one when he did not. This is a material lie when you think about who he is coaching – young people pursuing the same degree he claimed.

Let me take this back to the world of business, which is my venue.

Almost every organization that posts guiding principles and values touts “honesty” or “integrity” among them. So at what point are people held accountable for violating those values. That, my friend, IS a rhetorical question but one on which anyone in the business world should spend some time reflecting.

We learn honesty as children. We are taught that by our parents. We tell the truth even though there might be bad consequences for us because telling the truth is a fundamental value. At that point, we learn trust.

In organizations, we say we want trust. We say we want honesty. But at what price? What are we willing sacrifice if we find we cannot trust? Our top sales person who got there through deceptive means? A top designer who “borrows” a design? A trader who makes millions for the company walking on the wrong side of the rules?

I have been in organizations that struggled with this question. I have also been in organizations that don’t struggle with the question at all. Individuals who are not acting honestly are gone. Period.

People learn from others and from the culture. What are people learning in an organization that rationalizes dishonesty and provides no consequences?

Those words of principle and value on an organization’s wall have got to mean something. They have to be the principles that are carried out in every organizational dealing, not just when it is convenient. If not, they are simply empty words and empty words cannot foster trust. I do worry a bit that we are becoming complacent with empty words.



Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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  1. Carol, excellent article, thanks.

    Lying seems to come easy for too many people in positions of power. Look at Jonathan Gruber, Ph.D., who was instrumental in creating the lies that hid the truth from the voters prior to the 2012 election. We as voters seem to willingly accept lies if the lies are what we want to hear. I guess lying is good if it furthers our justifiable ends, i.e., landing that great job.

    • We certainly have an abundance of questionable truth-tellers to discuss. Thanks for your comment, Bob.

  2. This was a well written article on a very sensitive subject. One thing I can’t stand is for someone to question my integrity. I work so hard to never ever misrepresent myself and be truthful all the time. However, I’ve become increasingly aware that parents do not teach their children to tell the truth regardless of the consequences. I’ve seen the evidence of shaded truth. Have you watched TV and movies? We are surrounded on all sides by deception and dishonesty.There’s a certain amount of desensitization going on there. I watch TV too and I watch movies and if I didn’t have a strong moral compass to begin with I might think like so many other do “So what? Everybody lies.” What we have on our side are leaders who head up organizations and who have families where they staunchly live by their core values that state they will be truthful, trustworthy, honest, and they will teach and train impeccable character. I wish there was no such thing as deception but it’s a fact.

  3. Appreciate the update, Richard – I missed that. It is really interesting how much activity just this post has received in various venues. And like the comments on the original article, these comments are all over the board. Where it all seems to break down is identifying the real issue. It isn’t that he didn’t have a degree. It is that it should be difficult to trust him. Baffling is right…why would an organization put someone in that position who could not be trusted.

    Thanks for your comment. Nice to see you here – hope you are well.

  4. Carol,

    Thank you for posting this.

    To me, the most baffling decision is the one by Manhattan College to retain Coach Masiello even after learning he had lied in applying for the job of head coach. The school claims to be built on Lasallian principles, one of which is “an emphasis on ethical conduct.” The decision to keep the coach and the bizarre justification provided by its President a few days ago suggest it is built on something else.

  5. We are an executive search firm and as candidates go through our process, they can proceed with discussions up to the point when we verify education and other credentials. If a potential candidate is found to have lied or embellished his/her education or certifications, they are dropped IMMEDIATELY and are not presented for consideration to our client. Further, since the client is aware of the executives in the search pipeline, we do advise the client the reason a candidate did not make the cut. Therefore, that candidate should know that he/she has seriously damaged their job seeking prospects by their own actions. Honesty and trust are personal attributes that are crucial to our firm and our clients.