A stark contrast in leadership and accountability…


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Earlier this week, the investigations of two separate accidents–one from the University of Notre Dame, and the other from the United States Marine Corps–were released. The accidents resulted in the death of a single individual from each organization. In the first accident, Notre Dame released its findings regarding the accidental death of Declan Sullivan, a junior film student from Long Grove, Ill., who was killed last fall while filming a Notre Dame football practice when the 40-foot lift he was using fell over in a 53 mph wind gust. And in the second incident, the Marines released their accident investigation regarding the January 2011 sinking of an amphibious vehicle during a training exercise in a Southern California harbor that killed 27-year-old Marine Sergeant Wesley Rice, who served two tours in Iraq.

Both investigation results were similar in the sense that they cited “lack of oversight and procedures” as the primary cause for each accident. But the investigations then differed widely in how accountability was defined and administered.

Notre Dame said Monday that football staff responsible for advising whether it was safe to practice outside used out-of-date weather information the day a student videographer fell to his death when the hydraulic lift he was on toppled over in high winds. The university said its investigation found “the accident was caused by a confluence of unrelated events and issues”—among them a failure to provide football staff a way of monitoring wind speed during practices.

University officials acknowledged that their procedures and safeguards weren’t adequate but said they couldn’t find anyone to blame for 20-year-old Declan Sullivan’s death. No one was monitoring wind speeds when the lift blew over, but it wasn’t anyone’s job to do that, executive vice president John Affleck-Graves said.

The Rev. John Jenkins, the university president, said “We did not find any individual who disregarded safety or was indifferent to safety. Consequently, there was not any individual discipline,” Jenkins also indicated that he ultimately was responsible, but he doesn’t expect any action to be taken against him.

Contrast that with how the Marine Corps treated those held responsible for the death of Sgt. Rice.

The Marine Corps said that lack of oversight contributed to the sinking of an amphibious vehicle during a training exercise in a Southern California harbor that killed a sergeant.

Mechanical failure and non-standard training and operating procedures were also to blame but “ultimately a lack of sufficient oversight” caused the Jan. 14 mishap that killed 27-year-old Sgt. Wesley Rice, who served two tours in Iraq, the Marine Corps said in a press release.

The commander of the Assault Amphibian School Battalion, Lt. Col. James A. Harris IV. was relieved of his duties along with seven other members of his staff.

The difference in how each organization treated accountability is striking (to say the least). In the case of Notre Dame, not one member of the administration or coaching staff was held accountable for the death of Declan Sullivan. Responsibility was parsed in such a way so that no one was disciplined. From the university president Rev. John Jenkins to head coach Brian Kelly and on down to his entire football staff, everyone walked away clean–their careers generally unaffected despite the fact that again, the investigation report cited a number of them as bearing some responsibility for the accident. A poor example of leadership from this great university – I would have expected better.

In the case of the Marine Corps, responsibility was broadly assigned throughout and discipline was swift and harsh–eight members of the battalion staff responsible for training were held accountable for Sgt. Rice’s death. All eight were fired almost immediately after the investigation concluded; their Marine Corps careers effectively ended. Despite the severe consequences, it was the proper action.

I guess the only solace I see in these contrasting outcomes is that we’re lucky that the leadership responsible for defending this country comes from organizations like the Marine Corps and not the University of Notre Dame.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


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