[April 21, 2019] As a senior military Flag Officer, I’ve used investigations as a tool to ferret the truth when other avenues were closed. However, in my experience, investigations are also used unethically to punish leaders or to harass them.1 When this leader tool is used as a weapon, everyone loses.
“About all I can say for the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.” – Will Rogers, American actor, cowboy, humorist, commentator
The perpetrators of such misuse of investigations are rarely punished. In any organization, there will be unscrupulous people who attempt to gain money, fame, promotion, or power through a corruption of the rules of fairness. In such places, there are clear-cut rules on how to properly and morally use investigations, yet there is often little said when used for unethical purposes.
Misuse of investigations must change if we are to make progress as leaders. It is the responsibility of each leader to do whatever they can to avoid the fraudulent use of this leadership tool.
When I was a boy and played baseball, if you lost, then you lost honestly and without cheating. Like all my friends, we never liked to lose a game (which was often) but to cheat would label us as untrustworthy and the fallout would be immediate. If we cheated, our team would not be allowed to play other teams. Our parents would be notified (a great fear). And, we would be called a “cheater” in school.
When investigations are used as a weapon, the user is cheating. A few years before my retirement, a senior civilian in the U.S. Army had been performing poorly. She failed to complete simple tasks or to supervise her subordinates. When counseled for her poor performance by her superior officer, she filed a harassment charge against him. This investigation delayed her being held accountable; exactly what she wanted.
As I write this blog post, people are studying the U.S. Department of Justice report known as the Mueller Investigation. Many have called this out as an example of an attempt to punish a sitting U.S. President because they disagree with him politically.
The best leaders lead by example. If it turns out the Mueller Investigation was used as a weapon, then those involved must be punished. Good leaders should closely study this and not take it as a ticket for a free ride to get back at those they dislike.