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“Culture of Complacency Cultivates Catastrophe” 

Brig. Gen. William E. King IV (then colonel) commanded Dugway Proving Ground in Utah from 2009 to 2011, during which time the military laboratory mistakenly sent live anthrax to facilities around the world. (Anthrax is a lethal disease caused by the bacterium “bacillus anthracis” which can form dormant spores that are able to survive in harsh conditions for decades or even centuries. -Wiki)

How could such a thing happen? How could anyone allow such things to happen on their watch?  Well, according to the army’s investigative report, “Colonel King was unwilling to take a deeper look at the operations he commanded, and ultimately perpetuated a complacent atmosphere… (he was) unwilling or unable to take responsibility for the management problems.” (See NYT link below)

“Unwilling to take a deeper look” 

It is an all too common trait in managers. It is all too easy to stay away from the front line, to not go out on the factory floor, to stay in the home office and “rely” upon secondhand reports that rarely give the full or total picture. Real leaders, effective managers, get out where the rubber meets the road. They talk to people at all levels of the hierarchy in situations that make it possible for them to speak freely, they ask meaningful, open-ended questions designed to elicit full responses. They surround themselves with confident, competent people with different viewpoints and encourage people to speak their minds openly and actively counteract groupthink. They know human motivations, strengths and weakness, as well as organizational behavior. They understand how systems work as well as have an appreciation for likely failure points. They regularly do deep dives and realize that the law of unintended consequences is alive and in full force.

At its heart, the unwillingness to take a deeper look is really just a form of intellectual or emotional laziness. It is an abdication of responsibility, a shameful failure of commitment.  It is all too easy to skip on the details, to not do the hard work and hope you luck out but sooner or later the odds catch up on you. You’ve got to know the territory and that usually involves sustained, diligent effort and hard work. Unfortunately, it’s often other folks who suffer the consequences from one person’s dereliction of duty.

Link to New York Times article:


As always, I share what I most want/need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier