When Experts Failed and Leaders Followed

By | February 25, 2021

[February 25, 2021]  By the time I reached my 20th year in the U.S. Army, I had become one of a few experts on large-scale combat and military construction Engineering.  My specialty was Base construction in hostile combat zones.  Yet, on several occasions, my ability to design, fund, construct and maintain large, complex bases failed.  Experts can and do fail.  I was one of them.

I learned from my experiences that experts could fail, and leaders who rely upon them can also fail.

On many occasions, the U.S. Army came to me and asked that I put together a military Base from which a sizeable military force could conduct combat operations.  I won’t bore my readers with details, but bases in combat zones are typically designed from a few hundred to a few thousand people.  Failure is never an option.

As an expert, I realized that anything could go wrong in any place along the path to completing a Base.  In combat, everything that can go wrong usually does go wrong.  I knew this from many years of combat and from discussing the subject with other Base construction experts.  The big problem is that when the experts fail, those relying upon that expert also fail.

The modern take on “experts.”

Speaking with several young adults last week, we were having a friendly decision.  Our conversation was about freedom of speech and how experts play into the narrative.  I am sort of an expert on experts, being an expert and all.  Well, that is what I told them anyway.  My position was that all speech should be allowed (as outlined in the U.S. First Amendment to the Constitution).  Their position was that certain forms of speech should be banned by the government, like hate and violent speech.1

When I asked the question ‘Who determines what is hate or violent speech?’ they said it should be left up to the “experts.” I asked about these so-called experts, what kind of training and experience they have, expert resources, their backgrounds, their history of success and failures, etc.  End of conversation.

Who are the experts?  Who chooses these experts?  What authority do these experts have?

In the U.S. military, experts are chosen by Commanders, and those Commanders are fully accountable.  This means – and it is fully understood ahead of time – that an expert’s failure will be laid at the doorstep of the Commander.  If the Commander gives the expert authority to act on their behalf, or not, the Commander assumes all responsibility.

Not so in the civilian world.  Experts are a class into themselves.  They are not held accountable for their failures, and those who employ them are also absolved from any responsibility.  Herein lies the problem of the expert class.  When there is no accountability, failure will surely follow.2

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  1. I’m aware of the intellectual trap of separating “hate speech” from “free speech.” It’s an old, time-tested formula used by SJWs and ideological leftists to win arguments.
  2. https://www.theleadermaker.com/reading-list-update-the-big-lie/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

22 thoughts on “When Experts Failed and Leaders Followed

  1. Sadako Red

    Great article, Gen. Satterfield. Experts often fail. That is their secret you will never be told.

    Reply
    1. ZB22

      Ha Ha Ha, “follow the science,” except when it goes against your ideology.

      Reply
  2. Jerome Smith

    This “modern take on experts” is a bit scary. I think you are saying, Gen. S., that when experts are used, no one has responsibility for the outcome. While that may be true for politicians, it is not true for business … IMHO.

    Reply
    1. Shawn C. Stolarz

      Good point, Jerome. The bottom line of business is to make money yet if you fail to do so by having an expert give you unworkable advice, you are FIRED. Or at least you are no longer in a position to hire an expert in the future.

      Reply
  3. Willie Shrumburger

    A little more background on what Gen. Satterfield did in the Army. Let’s not overlook the fact that he was responsible for some major efforts by the US military. Of course, we cannot see it all but helps put things into perspective.

    Reply
  4. William DeSanto

    Who are the experts? Who chooses these experts? What authority do these experts have?
    Just as a socialist/progressive/SJW/marxist. They know the answer and you will be killed/cancelled/destroyed if you don’t walk lockstep with them.

    Reply
    1. Audrey

      Very Wehrmacht like … the Nazi analogy is always overused but in this case, I think it appropriate. Yet, the “progressives” cannot see it. Like the US Democrat Party of hate, envy, Marxist ways they promote.

      Reply
  5. Jeff Blackwater

    The best part of your article and I quote “Experts are a class into themselves. They are not held accountable for their failures, and those who employ them are also absolved from any responsibility. ” Every leader should post this on their desk to remind themselves of their charge.

    Reply
  6. old warrior

    I don’t recommend debating with SJWs. It is like wrestling with a pig. You come out dirty and the pig loves it. You need to kick butt another way.

    Reply
  7. Bryan Z. Lee

    Hey, Gen. Satterfield, you nailed another one. I always assumed full responsibility for those who worked for me. Whether direct employee or hired consultant, I held full responsibility. Many leaders still think this way but most no longer do. Your article is spot-on.

    Reply
  8. Max Foster

    This article gets to the heart of the idea of responsibility. Who is responsible for what? When we hire experts, and those experts fail, who is responsible for the failure? That is the predicament that leaders like Gov Cuomo of New York state is in. He is responsible, period. BUT he will deny it. That shows that he is no leader but that his big mouth gets him where others cannot go.

    Reply
    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      NY Gov Cuomo is a classic socialist (or should I just say politician) who takes all the credit and shifts blame to others. Cuomo is now under federal investigation for sexual harassment. That is the case for many of these types who think they can do no wrong.

      Reply
    2. Greg Heyman

      What I like about this comment section and Gen. Satterfield’s blog, is that we can discuss and read about ‘responsibility’ and learn about how others adopt it.

      Reply
    1. Eric Coda

      Heh? Saw the film many moons ago. But your analogy is good. Too many ‘leaders’ live in fantasy land that they lay the blame of failures on anybody but themselves and take credit for all that works out well. Just look at NY Gov. Coumo – what an idiot, that killed so many of his people due to his horrible politics with COVID.

      Reply
      1. Lady Hawk

        So true and so sad, yet the citizens of New York still ‘love’ him dearly. That shows their depravity and that they have guaranteed their own failures in the future.

        Reply
      2. José Luis Rodriguez

        Good points, Randy and Eric. That is what SJWs want, no responsibility for their own lives.

        Reply

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