Rather than offering up an explanation (LA traffic), I simply said, "I'm sorry for being late." Then, watching the time, I finished up the meeting on time. While many might think that the explanation excuse is helpful, it's actually a waste of creative energy and breath.
While traffic problems might provide a reason for being tardy, they don't erase the lost time or make those I've inconvenienced feel better. That's the fallacy of the excuse-makers: We think we are providing a service, when in fact, we are asking to be let off the hook. In other words, we screw up, then ask for a favor.
In my business life, I abhor chronic excuse-makers. They often point fingers when something is broken, late or underwhelming. They refuse to be accountable. They delay digging into the post-mortem or the solution. When I worked at Yahoo!, I would frequently say, "Stop making excuses and start making up lost ground." You should too.
Great leaders are first and foremost accountable for everything they do. They take it on the chin when their team fails and get lots of glory when they succeed. Why don't they provide an excuse for success? Because there isn't one.
I've been counting the number of excuses I hear both at work and in casual conversation. It's astounding how much we enable people to make mistakes in our culture. With mobile phones, being late is OK, so long as you call in advance and tell people you are running late. In the old days, you stressed about it to the point that you resolved to never let it happen again. So let's go back to the old days where we don't let others off the hook, and don't expect that for ourselves.
The result? A culture of execution. A team that focuses on the solutions and not the distribution of blame. Try it for a week, and soon you'll agree with me: Excuses are a waste of everyone's time.