The blame PatteRn

Shisenski and Obama this week

Shisenski and Obama this week

I’m not qualified to say whether Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki was at fault for the scandal that has rocked the Veterans Administration.  I also don’t know how directly responsible he was for the VA staff’s misdeeds which led to his resignation last week.  I do, however, know enough about finger-pointing to understand that Shinseki had to go: politicians, the media, and subsequently the public, demanded it.

We see this pattern of blaming in matters of scandal and failure: something goes wrong and then we usually force the resignation of the person in charge. This mostly seems justified. But it’s sometimes mere window dressing, just a move made to make us believe the problem is being solved.

There’s been no shortage of such resignations in this year.  Kathleen Sibelius left her position as health secretary after the botched launch of Obamacare.  After millions of Target customers’ credit and debit card information were compromised, Gregg Steinhafel stepped down as CEO.  Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who made a contribution in 2008 to support a measure to ban gay marriage, resigned after being scorned on Twitter by his own employees and thousands of others.  Now, the union representing Malaysia Airlines employees wants the resignation of Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya as he grapples with the disappearance of Flight 370.

Clearly, Flight 370’s fate could not have been prevented by Mr. Yahya, nor can he locate the still-missing plane.  But it’s such misguided thinking which brings owners to fire a manager or coach when their team is losing (watch out, Terry Collins!), even though it’s really not their fault.  This can be a lame public relations technique and a poor fix for bad situations.

The Veterans Administration won’t be cured because General Shisenski is no longer running it.  Its internal culture must be changed for it to become fully functional and fair.

But on second thought, isn’t it the CEO’s job to set the tone and the culture of an organization? Hmmm.  Maybe I’m wrong about calling this lame PR and misguided thinking.  Your thoughts?



5 thoughts on “The blame PatteRn

  1. Keyana Hammons

    Removing a CEO from office is taking the easy way out. in most cases yes that is a way to show the public your taking action of the situation but in some cases such as the missing flight, removing the CEO won’t do any good for the company or the search of finding the plane. reading an article like this makes me think of the Jetblue airlines incident where flights were cancelled for several days after a snow storm, Jetblue didn’t fire their CEO or any other employees, they just improved their company.

  2. stacyannn1

    I couldn’t agree more. People believe by firing the CEO’s the problems are fixed. Its a simple fix and then the media just ignores the story afterward. But to be honest its not only the CEO’s fault, its everyone related to that situation and its unfortunate because those people will never be reprimanded.

  3. marissaespinoza

    Holding the leader of a firm/organization/group accountable is a double edged sword. We consider the leader, CEO, or President of a company to be the leader and the individual who sets the tone for the rest of organization. Therefore, when something goes wrong for the organization, we look to hold the leader accountable. For this reason leaders are subject to trials, congressional hearings, firings and public scrutiny. Yet, I question whether even the most effective leader can truly micromanage. Did Governor Christie know the extent of the communications amongst his aides? Companies are targeted by hackers regularly; is Mr. Steinhafel to blame for the acts of a criminal? While it is normal to look to the leader of an organization as responsible for actions of the company, when we hold them responsible for crises or scandals that often occur outside their control, we merely use them as the scapegoat. Is Target safer from hackers without the leadership of Mr. Steinhafel? I think that as unfortunate as it is for the leaders we scrutinize, it is the price they pay for their power and paychecks. They wanted to be at the top, after all.

  4. Evon

    The CEO always has some kind of blame in the problems that affect their company. I think it’s more important to assign the most blame to the right person than to attack the person who is in charge. That is a bitter pill to swallow when talking about the public believing that though. It’s much easier to hit the person on top.

  5. Krista Giannak

    Firing a CEO is the simplest, but not necessarily the best way to deal with a public relations crisis. It is a reflection of our tendency as humans to put a Band-Aid on a wound, but not necessarily to address the complex reasons for the injury. Also, though it can be hard for the public to except, there are many things that are completely beyond a leader’s control or ability to foresee.


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