Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Big 3 CEO on C-SPAN: A Leadership Train Wreck


I had the opportunity to fly Jet Blue this week, with the comfy leather chairs and personal satellite televisions. So with time to kill, I was channel surfing and stopped on a live broadcast of the Big 3 bailout senate hearings.

I usually never watch cspan, but this was like watching a leadership train wreck. It was painfully riveting.

Here were three of our American captains of industry, from what used to be three of the most respected companies in the world, sitting together with the head of the UAW begging for handouts. On live television, four hours worth of it, for all of us to see. Sitting there being grilled, scrutinized, criticized, and humiliated by members of the senate (whom I don’t have a lot of respect for to begin with).

Look, I’m no expert in economics and the auto industry. I’m in no position to cast stones at GM, Ford, or Chrysler regarding what they have or haven’t done that’s contributing to the mess they’re all in. I know from personal experience what it's like to work at a struggling company, and it's no fun.

I also have my opinions on the whole idea of governments bailing out the private sector, but again, that’s not what this blog is all about either.

This blog is about Great Leadership. This I know. Or at least know it when I see it.

And what I saw yesterday was anything but.

Leadership is about having a compelling vision, a credible plan how to get there, and gaining commitment to that vision and plan. I didn’t hear enough of that to convince me these guys knew what they were doing. And I really wanted to believe them! I'd write a personal check if I thought it would help.

The Big 3 guys were all about doom and gloom, and probably ticked-off Washington and the public more than ever with their performance. A quick scan of the media reaction this morning verifies that – there’s little media, political, and public support.

Leadership is also about accountability, being able to recognize problems before they become big problems, admitting that you have a problem, and taking responsibility to fix it. Great leaders can admit their mistakes, learn from them, and move on with an uncanny sense of confidence.

I saw very little demonstration of accountability on cspan yesterday. Not much candor, and a lot of finger-pointing.

Then there’s authenticity; and humility; teamwork; and commitment. Now I don’t know any of these CEOs, I’ve not worked for them, and have not studied them. I’m only reacting to what I saw on television for 4 hours. Rick Wagoner came across as arrogant, defensive, and out of touch. Ford’s Alan Mulally pretty much threw him under the bus, saying he was only there because GM was there. And Chrysler’s Bob Nardelli acted like he didn’t even want to be there, like he was just waiting for it to be done with. At least Nardelli showed a little bit of authenticity. Maybe because he’s only been at the helm for about a year, he genuinely was less defensive?

I’ve got to believe that these guys are very talented businessmen, or they wouldn’t have risen to the positions they hold today. And who know, maybe they are great leaders, and this was just a terrible television performance.

Maybe the idea of asking for a handout was a last resort, a desperate last ditch attempt to save the companies they love.

But guys, you need to clean up your act. That performance scored a 12% on the leadership tomatometer.

Stand tall, and show some real leadership. Your companies and your country desperately need it!

6 comments:

James Higham said...

Leadership is about having a compelling vision, a credible plan how to get there, and gaining commitment to that vision and plan. I didn’t hear enough of that to convince me these guys knew what they were doing. And I really wanted to believe them! I'd write a personal check if I thought it would help.

And here was I thinking it was covering one's butt.

Rachel - I Hate HR said...

Oh I didn't know Nardelli was involved! That guy doesn't know the first thing about leadership. Why oh why do we continue to pay big bucks to these guys who can't seem to get it right no matter where they go.

Bruce Lewin said...

I thought there was a video!!!

Jeff said...

As leadership goes you're right on, these guys were pathetic and the sad thing is for some reason I was quietly rooting for them to present a compelling case for the $$. To me what the did as horrifically as the leadership issue was the PR issue. If I'm one of them and I'm going to go ask for taxpayer $$$ you can bet I'm going to try to appear sympathetic in some way. When in fact the whole private jet debacle made them seem out of touch. All they did was seem less needy in every way. It's as if they didn't think at all about how to present their case beforehand.

Wally Bock said...

One of the things I look for is that the leader is part of "we." These guys aren't. They're willing to take millions dollars of compensation while they layoff thousands. You haven't heard them talk about giving up a penny.

Dan McCarthy said...

oh yeah, and now the private jets. Clueless.