Management and Consulting Services

The Sergeant Schultz Defense (“…I know nothing, nothing…”)

11/5/2013

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At some point in time, each of us has gained a full ration of “in the chair” experiences, worked for more than a few companies and bosses, seen the style and effectiveness of great mentors and parents and teachers…and leaders.  We’ve built a history of how best to deal with the numerous personality disorders of not-so-effective people, ferreted-out the BS-artists vs. substantive producers.  We become highly skilled at separating the winners…and losers.  We’ve listened carefully to baseless claims, attempted to follow poor reasoning, and evaluated lame or non-factual “excuses.”

And then, rightfully so, we end up withholding all respect whatsoever.

We’ve all seen bad “leaders” and their embedded:

  • Inconsistent or ideologically-based actions,
  • unprincipled arrogance and hubris,
  • self-importance/self-serving behavior,
  • shallowness,
  • even narcissism.

…then we wonder…just how did they get to where they are, and how are they able to stay there?  

Successful business people (and capitalists) admire and espouse accountability, people who take responsibility for their actions or inaction, and they also take credit for favorable accomplishments too.  That famous movie title, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”…well, we respect full disclosure, principled behavior, and that higher standard…ownership for all things caused, across all three categories.  So, when “leaders,” or perpetrators, or incompetent management, or two-faced politicians, or (fill-in-the-blank) do not take responsibility, it becomes inordinately obvious to us.  We see right through them. Sometimes we can do something DIRECTLY about them, sometimes NOT.

We watch these people operate, and finally, in a moment of stress…they get tested under adversarial conditions…are under the spotlight…their actions are scrutinized…questioned…taken to task…challenged…criticized…pressured…from history and from facts.

Then they fold, right in front of our eyes.

And the excuses start: “It is someone else’s fault, they weren’t told, they weren’t aware, they didn’t know, they can’t recall.”  We see that a lot today, from company officers to politicians—from school superintendents to county commissioners, agency heads to presidents.  Label it the “Sergeant Schultz Defense” for it runs rampant because countervailing forces which can keep people and their disorderly conduct in check are being diminished within public life.  At the same time, however, others I personally know (in government, business, and academic life) still hold themselves to a “higher standard.”

Methinks principled people often get outflanked and outranked.  Unfortunately the impacts are borne by citizens and stockholders who are: employed, taxpayers, informed voters, current with their debts, their sequential education completed but they remain engaged in life-long learning, go to church or believe in a higher being, follow their core (and have one), do the right next thing, and on and on and on.

Let’s face it, the Sergeant Schultz Defense didn’t work for Bernie Ebbers…he got 25 years.

Why should it work for other so-called “leaders”?