Enabling Failure in Institutions

By | November 8, 2023

[November 8, 2023]  We’ve all seen supervisors who give excuses for employees who are failures in their jobs.  Like the alcoholic whose family enables the alcoholic’s drinking behavior, leaders are also enabling failure in other leaders.

Whatever the reason or excuse, there is an emerging trend in U.S. institutions where leaders fail to take quick, effective action to deal with people in their organization who perform poorly or conduct themselves unprofessionally.  A feature of leadership is to take care of people in our care, but accommodating failure misinterprets that requirement.

Some senior leaders blame the litigious society we live in, others blame the complexity of their jobs absorbing all their attention, and others blame our “politically correct” world – but the real reason is simply a lack of moral courage to face problems head-on.  This translates directly into terrible consequences.

“99% of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” – George Washington Carver

This enabling of failure by leaders is incredibly destructive if it has been happening for a long time.  Correcting becomes much more challenging, and leaders can expect to dedicate even more of their valuable time to dealing with old problems.  Leaders who enable failure should be identified, retrained, or removed so they do not further spread this de facto method of employee accommodation and pandering.

My personal experience suggests that even senior leaders can fall into this trap, which then reverberates downward into the institutions, doing long-term damage.  In effect, the senior leader has now changed the organization’s culture to one of accepting low standards of performance or activities that clash with fundamental organizational values.

Senior leaders need to be on the lookout for anyone enabling failure.  Yet, the best way of discovery is by actively engaging other leaders to make them aware and by discussing the problem openly.  Good employees will know this is happening anyway and will be hesitant to tell leaders about it or leave.  That builds a bad reputation and possibly a spiral into uselessness.

Enabling failure is the best way to severely harm the institution’s internal culture.  It is insidious and, like the old idiom says, “one bad apple spoils the barrel.”  People dependent on that organization will be poisoned.  Finding a senior leader today to take on this task will be enormously complex, particularly in institutions adopting the current craze of Woke ideology.

I see this poison daily as I travel across the U.S.  Anyone spending time in an airport, major department store, university/college, or large government office would be blind not to see it and see that little is being done to stop it.

This is why we must have senior leaders with relevant leadership experience in diverse organizations that ideally reach across geographic and intellectual boundaries.  Only by tackling the problem head-on with the strength of moral courage, the will to do so, and experience will leaders be successful.


Please read my books:

  1. “55 Rules for a Good Life,” on Amazon (link here).
  2. “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” on Amazon (link here).
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “Enabling Failure in Institutions

  1. Eddie Gilliam

    Excellent article. The GOAT, Greatest of All Times, leaders was Jesus. He taught many parables which is a story that has meaningful life lessons. He taught people how to love ❤️ your enemies and those who despite use you. He taught me how to fish both natural and spiritual. He called them his disciples. He taught people how to love the Lord with all thine heart, mind and soul. His leadership turns the world 🌎 upside down
    The question today are our leadership skills making a difference or is it causing problems 🤔.

    1. North of Austin

      Got me there on that quote. I hope Harvard board of directors figures this out quickly or their pain will be there for the world to see.

      1. USA Patriot II

        No such luck, North of Austin. They are part of the problem. The few losses they incur (even in the millions of dollars and hit to their reputation) will be seen as the price they have to pay to be “part of the moral people”. They will never see otherwise until mugged in an alley by a university student.

  2. Edward G.

    “Enabling failure is the best way to severely harm the institution’s internal culture. It is insidious and, like the old idiom says, “one bad apple spoils the barrel.” People dependent on that organization will be poisoned. Finding a senior leader today to take on this task will be enormously complex, particularly in institutions adopting the current craze of Woke ideology.”

  3. Jerome Smith

    If you point out the reason for the failure of Harvard and other of these so-called “Ivy League” universities, you will be called racccisssst. The truth will win. In the interim, we will suffer terribly.

  4. Max Foster

    Hummf, tough reminder that we can get sidetracked. Some inexperienced leaders will crash and burn because they neither the experience that you reference, Gen. Satterfield, not the balanced leader network that we must have (and often overlooked). This latter network is crucial. Nearly every liberal I talk to who wants to elevate people of color and assume they will do well just because they are the “leader” misses this point about leader networks. These networks help you out. You can call someone who has been there and has experience. Similar to mentoring but much more informal but just as necessary to do well in the long run and esp. under stress or bad times.

    1. Desert Cactus

      Excellent comment as usual Max. If you want an example, take the Harvard president Gay who “encourages” antisemitism in the name of “diversity” and “inclusion.” Oh, and “equity.” How’s that working out for her? Probably she doesn’t even see her actions as failing.

      1. mainer

        When you are a diversity hire – she’s black and a woman and probably a dike – then you cannot see it. 😎

      2. Idiot Savant

        Wow, Harvard….. crash and burn. The sad part is that the Harvard President doesn’t even know she has crashed and burned. That is a very special level of stupidity.

  5. Mikka Solarno

    Thanks Gen. Satterfield for a reminder of what NOT to do as a leader.

    1. JT Patterson

      Doug, I agree that we’ve all been there. By the time you become someone more senior in an organization and with experience under your belt, you have a much better idea how to overcome those limitations you are putting on yourself and hobbling your organization. I found that some self-reflection helps. Gen. Satterfield discusses this in his book “55 Rules for a Good Life.” If you’re a smart cookie, then you will buy the book and leave a rating on Amazon’s site.

  6. tutor

    We all do it. We must be better. The first step is recognizing this as a natural desire to help others and learn how to help without enabling bad behavior.

    1. Ron C.

      Welcome tutor. I recommend Gen. Satterfield’s book. See them linked to Amazon above.


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