December 1, 2012  

Leader accountability

To Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, for ordering a formal review to determine “how to better foster a culture of stewardship among our most senior leadership.” The findings were due to the White House on Dec. 1.

Command is a lonely business, yet it often comes with a bubble of privilege. Senior leaders bear great responsibilities, endure long absences from home and family, and lack immediate connections with friends and confidantes of similar rank. They can develop dependencies on staff and subordinates who cater to their every wish — and often even to the perception of a wish.

In this vacuum, they can develop a sense of invincibility and personal entitlement, which in turn can skew their moral compass. Perspective is lost, better judgment is ignored, inappropriate relationships take root and bad decisions are made.

That is, of course, no excuse. Senior leaders must be held accountable or the entire chain of command loses credibility. But steps can be taken to ease the burden. Senior leaders need readily available mentors and confidantes, and subordinates must have the tools to raise questions or voice dissent. And other steps, such as more rigorous screening for command, can help weed out abusers before they accrue any power at all.