“The captain must go down with the ship” is a phrase associated with the captain of a sinking ship. In this sense, the captain has an obligation (commitment) to stay on board the ship until the last passenger is rescued. If passengers cannot be rescued, the captain goes down with the ship. Today, this idiom often crosses over to organizational culture, requiring the “captain” of the organization (usually the CEO) or senior leader of the department (VP, Director, etc.) to accept responsibility for their respective organizations decisions. This may result in an abrupt resignation or termination – sometimes with a nice golden parachute.
While it is logically sound that the senior leader, whether it be the ship captain or company CEO, does their best to faithfully serve their organization (or passengers), is it right to make them go down with the ship or lose their position in the organization… for a mistake? What if they had no idea there was an issue until it was beyond their control? What if they truly are just the scapegoat?
In the case of the Volkswagen emission scandal that erupted in September of 2015, then CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned and the suspension of 3 brand and research head developers followed. It was found that the automaker developed special programming that intentionally mislead emissions tests in many of their turbo diesel vehicles. Find out more here.
The sinking ship concept places the CEO as “the fall guy” showing how the organization “took action” to rectify the issue by terminating the CEO or an abrupt resignation by the CEO. If the CEO had no knowledge of the issue, should he resign or be terminated? An argument for this would be the CEO should have known, and if she did not, the CEO should be terminated for their inability to lead the organization. This may or may not be the issue.
The one thing that bothers me, is our (cultures) need to place blame. Why should the CEO resign if the issue was 2 or 3 levels beneath them? Wouldn’t correcting the root cause or terminating the scandalous individual be enough? For some reason, it appears that our society has the need to blame someone or we feel an injustice has occurred. Now, I am not saying that termination is an inappropriate action. Intentional and willful negligence and deceit requires a heavier punishment than say, an honest mistake. Pointing the finger makes us feel better. Instead, I propose we correct the issue, care for people, and make amends for our mistakes – intentional or not.
What happens next? Can the organization or individual recover from their mistake? Check out our next article discussing personal and organizational image – recovering from a mistake.
Jared W. Snow
Here is a quick lesson from my 11 year old son, Gavin. You see, Gavin enjoys tinkering around the garage. The challenge for me is he uses tools and doesn’t put them away – big surprise for anyone with an 11 year old?! I recently purchased a new tool chest – the kind that locks! I told Gavin that since he helped lose pieces and some were not put away correctly, that he earned the opportunity to help organize my new tool chest.
It came time to organize the sockets. There were at least 2 dozen that were not where they belong and my instructions were to organize them first by standard and metric. I showed him that standard have measurements of 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and so on and that metric have a number and “mm” next to it. Easy instructions, not too many sockets to organize, and he was doing it with a smile.
Then he says, “Dad, your way works, and I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a faster way.” First, I was glad he was trying not to be rude. Second, I was surprised that he had an easier way. Was it to just throw them out?! So, he showed me. And here is the 2-part lesson. Apparently, at least on a Craftsman socket set, the standard sockets have, along with the brand name, the measurement only, while the metric sockets have 1/8 inch tick marks all the way around the bottom of the socket. Who knew!? So instead of looking for the “mm” he was looking for the tick marks. I have been doing it the difficult way all these years!
The second lesson of my 2-part lesson is you never know who you will learn from. That day, I learned that even a self-proclaimed efficient and effective guy like me can learn something from an 11 year old. Don’t ignore the person who you believe to be too young, too old, uneducated, wrong job, wrong business, or any other “wrong” or “too” [insert assumption here], as you never know who or where you will learn from.
Jared W. Snow
Are you a pessimist or optimist? You might state that you are a realist. Most psychologists would counter that true realism is near impossible. In a complex world with lots of information to focus on, the action of attending to one data set means ignoring another data set. If you are an optimist, you may look for data that adds to your positive outlook. If you are a pessimist, you may look for data that supports a more negative outlook. Social psychology labels this as “confirmation bias”. Leadership must work hard at developing a less biased and more realistic perspective before making decisions.
In a classic case of “group think”, a very optimistic President Kennedy and his staff watched in horror at the failed Bay of Pigs invasion by CIA supported freedom fighters attempting overthrow Castro and retake Cuba. In hindsight, the failure was inevitable but the previously successful and highly confident Kennedy administration failed to look carefully at all the weaknesses of the plan. As the Bay of Pigs troops found out, a positive and cheery attitude does little to stop a bullet. When making decisions, leaders must face sober realities and address them appropriately before acting. As retired General Gordon Sullivan states in his book, “Hope is not a method”.
Does a positive attitude have value over a negative or even neutral one? Definitely. Once a plan is in the implementation stage where resources are committed and people are engaged, a positive attitude and high morale may be the only variables left to swing the outcome of impending events. Hope is not a method for preparation but during implementation, confidence and determination is surely preferable to fear and hesitation. Leaders model and set the attitude once the action starts.
Daniel Goleman states in his book titled Primal Leadership, “When people feel good they work at their best. Feeling good lubricates mental efficiency, making people better at understanding information and using decision rules in complex judgements, as well as more flexible ways of thinking”. Goleman found support for his claims in the results of several research studies:
-In a study of fortune 500 companies, cooperation and team work was a good predictor of increased profit share.
-Another study found that for every one percent increase in service climate there is a 2% increase in revenue.
-Poor morale in service organizations predicted higher turnover rates , resulting declining customer satisfaction and lower revenues.
-In a study of nineteen insurance companies, the organizational climate alone predicted profitability 75% of the time.
-Cardiac units in which nurses exhibited a predominately depressed mood had four times the death rate as patients in comparable units.
-In a study of 32 stores, positive employees had the best sales results. Research supports the impact of leadership on results. In a study of various organizations and their employees, the leader was estimated to contribute to 50 to 70 percent of organizational climate and morale.
In summary, research supports the impact of leadership in setting the organizational climate and morale. This emotional climate directly impacts organizational success. In business, the impact means money. In the military, it can impact the casualty count. At a college, it can impact enrollment and student retention. In the church, it can mean effectiveness of mission. It is a tremendous responsibility, but that is what leadership is all about.
William H. Snow, Ph.D