Leaders and Paying a Price for Being Wrong

By | July 14, 2020

[July 14, 2020]  The best thing that ever happened during my military training was to experience immediate feedback on whatever I did.  At the beginning of my career, I was first insulted, then shocked, and then mad that someone would tell me how wrong I was.  Later, I changed.  I came to welcome the clarity of instant feedback, something the typical leaders will not get.

I was born into the early 1950s segregated state of Arkansas, a place with a weak educational system, rampant poverty, and a church on every corner.  It was the church and the many WWII and Korean War veterans that helped me develop my character and taught me about the meaning of God, Country, and Family.  Since then, these three virtues guided my actions and were always there when trouble happened.

The most memorable part of growing up in a place that emphasizes traditional values, respect for others, individual responsibility and independence, and worthiness of every person, is that I got a quick response to anything I did or said.  I also learned that those who not given feedback tended to go astray.  This response was also a lesson from the Bible, one I have thought about for a long time.

“If you insulate people from paying the price of being wrong, you’re going to get a lot of wrong things done.” – Thomas Sowell1

Thomas Sowell hit upon something that’s been in the back of mind since growing up in the Deep South.  As kids, we all got our backside whacked if we did something wrong; there was no waiting.  When I joined the U.S. Army as an Infantry Officer, I met for the first time men who lacked this background.  They were all pampered, often arrogant, deceitful, and jealous.

I also learned to suck it up and move on whenever I made a mistake.  Initially, in training, these men made as many mistakes as I did, but instead of treating it as part of life and learning from it, they double-downed on the error and blamed others for their failure.  As time went on, those with my background made fewer mistakes in training while the other men made more errors never seemed to improve their ability to judge right from wrong.

True, if you protect someone from paying the price of being wrong, that person is going to do more wrong in the future.  I have found there is a compounding effect when it comes to such mistakes (and not getting feedback).  Such people get off track, and their career becomes a bumpy road, they are less satisfied with life, and are more likely to get into trouble with the law.


  1. Original quote source: https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2020/07/thomas-sowell-on-the-madness.php
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Leaders and Paying a Price for Being Wrong

  1. Doc Blackshear

    “Suck it up and move on,” …. how straight to the point. More of our young folks today should receive such advice.

  2. Tracey Brockman

    Another super blog post, Gen. Satterfield. I really learned something today. Oh, yesterday’s post about discussing the Disney movie with your friends in the army was spot on. 👍

    1. Greg Heyman

      Yes, Tracey. I know that you’ve been a big fan of Gen. Satterfield for a long time now and so have I. What I would like to see is that we encourage others to read his blog and DO THOSE THINGS that NEED DOING as a leader and good family man (or woman).

  3. Max Foster

    Excellent push to inform those of us who are trying to be better leaders and live lives that matter. That is why the “pursuit of happiness” is not really the way we should be thinking about life. it should be the pursuit of something meaningful. That is why so many are attracted to jobs like the military and police work. It is about helping our communities and everyone agrees that is important for the individual.

    1. Deplorable John

      Yes, and leaders do “pay the price” for being wrong when they don’t support the idea of going after those things that have meaning.

      1. The Kid 1945

        … and that is the way leaders do fail and when they do, they fail spectacularly.

  4. Georgie M.

    Gen. Satterfield, you commented upon the “compounding effect” of not getting the proper feedback in a timely manner. Could you expand on that idea?

    1. Jonathan B.

      I think what he means is that the less feedback we get, the further off the path of goodness we get. And, I don’t mean religiously but ethically and intellectually. That is why, I think, that abortion is so popular; there hasn’t been a good ethical education of those under 60 years old in this country where it used to be mandatory. Now, we are told to be anything we want to be and, while good advice, it is not so practical for every one of us.

    2. Jonnie the Bart

      Good point guys. I too would like to have more on this issue of “compounding” and how it impacts our lives.

  5. Walter H.

    “When you’re wrong” and “pay the price” for it, I would hope that feedback comes quick and proper. Today too many people don’t have the courage to give feedback to those who are getting off track. That is why we see, IMO, so many college students going off the intellectual deep end.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Roger that Walter. There is more than a simple price of doing something wrong, it’s the impact it has on others. I also agree that cowardice is becoming more rampant in the West and especially in the U.S.

  6. Valkerie

    General Satterfield, another great article. I like today’s and the past few days have been eye opening.

  7. Gil Johnson

    If you want feedback and you want it quick, join the US Army or US Marines. Usually the feedback is harsh without apology. That is how you can make improvements in your life almost instantaneously. And…. have fun doing it. Ha Ha 😊😊😊😊

  8. Eric Coda

    Fast feedback is one of those things that can truly be of help for those who struggle. They just need to learn that when getting feedback that to not take it personally and react emotionally to reject the feedback. One trait of a good leader is that they will politely accept the feedback. It is, of course, incumbent upon that leader to judge the feedback and incorporate it, if it is good.

    1. Mike Baker

      True, and appropriately asking for feedback is also acceptable. Thanks Eric. Good point.

      1. Eric Coda

        You’re welcome anytime. I will also add that it is important to LISTEN to people as if they have something to say that might actually be important to you and that they know what they are talking about. If we assume anything about people this is one we should all properly assume.

    2. JT Patterson

      Thanks Eric. Good point. For some reason most folks do reject feedback because they believe in most cases that it’s an attack on them as an individual and not meant to do them some good.

  9. Army Captain

    Super job here Gen.Satterfield. I especially like the Thomas Sowell quote. I’d not heard this before but it instantly made sense when I read your article.

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