Commenter Paul Compton addressed one issue in my post about the Flint water crisis, the question of whether avoidable disasters require some high-ranking individual with responsibility for the problem to resign or be fired as a vital symbolic statement that there will be official accountability when a system breaks down. I wrote, in reference to the calls for Michigan Governor Snyder to resign:
“Should Snyder resign? He wasn’t responsible for the fiasco, but he’s accountable: it’s his state, environmental protection agency, and water boards. He’s not the only one who should step up and fall on his sword, but sure: if you’ve read here for long, you know I support leaders and managers losing their jobs when massive screw-ups happen on their watch, especially when, as in this case, it is a joint effort.”
Here is Paul responding to that statement, in the Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Questions And Answers Regarding The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis”:
I agree completely; and disagree just as completely.
I have mentioned before that I am opposed to the Darth Vader school of man management. If someone has to fall on their sword every time they fail somewhere – even fail fairly spectacularly – not only will it be impossible for people to learn from their mistakes but we will soon run out of people who have any sort of competence at all.
Arthur Wellesley purchased a commission as Lieutenant-Colonel in the 33rd Regiment – he was already in the army and had seen some action by that time. At the battle of Seringapatam he advanced at night over un-reconnoitred ground and was soundly defeated resulting in some twenty five men killed. It has been suggested that if his brother had not been Governor-General of India he would have been court-martialed. We would never have had the Duke of Wellington, the only undefeated commander of his era.
Surely as people move up the chain of command their opportunities for catastrophic failure increase at each step. Added to that, the further up you go the more you are dependent on the performance of those below you. This, coupled with armchair critics and those with an agenda, can lead to a situation where the ‘boss’ cops it in the back for situations that are completely beyond their control.