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Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

THE QUESTION

Off With Their Heads?

The government's ouster of GM's chief, Rick Wagoner, raises the classic dilemma: Is removing the top leader -- irrespective of talent, culpability or the disruption it might cause -- the best way to signal that dramatic change is imminent and inevitable?

Posted by Ben Bradlee and Steve Pearlstein on March 30, 2009 10:14 AM
FROM THE PANEL
Col. Charles D. Allen

A Lesson From the Military

A parallel can be drawn between the ousting of GM's Rick Wagoner to the firing of some of the most highly accomplished senior leaders in the military due to the challenges at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Posted by Col. Charles D. Allen, on April 6, 2009 12:04 PM
Roger Martin

Cheap and Easy Way Out

The ouster of Rick Wagoner and instillation of Fritz Henderson was odd and primarily signal-based rather than instrumental.

Posted by Roger Martin, on April 6, 2009 11:49 AM
Jeffrey Pfeffer

Risky -- and Necessary

Organizational change almost invariably requires the turnover of senior leadership, even though it is disruptive and particularly so when outsiders come in.

Posted by Jeffrey Pfeffer, on April 3, 2009 1:43 PM
Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Beheading Is No Cure

Removing Wagoner sends a clear signal, but in this case removing the head will not cure the patient. It's time for an industry outsider to bring sweeping changes to this failed industry.

Posted by Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.), on April 1, 2009 10:15 AM
Pablo Eisenberg

Fire the Board Too

Wagoner's dismissal and the firing of most board members should have been a condition of the initial bailout.

Posted by Pablo Eisenberg, on April 1, 2009 10:12 AM

Real Bottom-Up Change

Removing a leader is a good way to signal change, but it will not necessary lead to change. Employees and others at the organization have to be ready for dramatic change for a leadership change to be effective.

Posted by USC Students, on April 1, 2009 10:01 AM
Joanne B. Ciulla

Designing a New GM Leader

GM categorizes its leaders as "finance guys" and "car guys" (engineers). Maybe GM needs another leader category, such as a cheerleader/salesman like Lee Iacocca to restore confidence in the company.

Posted by Joanne B. Ciulla, on April 1, 2009 9:32 AM
Ronald Heifetz

The Case Against Public Hangings

Wagoner's main failure -- to lead adaptive change -- had many "parents" throughout management and labor within GM and the investment, political, and consuming communities that fed into GM from outside. He shouldn't just be a scapegoat.

Posted by Ronald Heifetz, on March 31, 2009 3:39 PM
Slade Gorton

Now It's Obama's Responsibility

While it is reasonable for GM's de facto board of directors -- the U.S. government -- to fire Wagoner, the Obama administration will now be responsible if Wagoner's successor fails.

Posted by Slade Gorton, on March 31, 2009 3:28 PM

Simple Fairness

Corporate compensation culture of the last 10 or 15 years holds that when things go even moderately well, a handful of people at the very top of the company benefit the most. It's only fair those at the top should bear responsibility for failure.

Posted by Paul R. Portney, on March 31, 2009 2:58 PM

A Record Unblemished by Success

On a Navy ship, the captain is responsible for whatever happens on board. In the corporate world, unfortunately, too many boards of directors make excuses for leaders who fail. Wagoner had to go.

Posted by Ken Adelman, on March 31, 2009 9:55 AM
Warren Bennis

No Other Choice

This isn't like firing a coach after one bad season. This firing a leader who has been losing every season of this decade.

Posted by Warren Bennis, on March 31, 2009 9:50 AM
George Reed

No "Savior Leader" Here

It would be ridiculous to put the failure of GM at the feet of Mr. Wagoner or any other individual CEO, and, if there are no substantive changes in the GM system, we'll likely be examining his successor's failure in short order.

Posted by George Reed, on March 31, 2009 9:42 AM

Why was Wagoner Fired?

The president has yet to articulate how things are going to be better with Rick Wagoner out and a new executive in.

Posted by Yash Gupta, on March 30, 2009 5:54 PM

Ungraceful Wagoner

If Wagoner had any grace, he would have resigned months or even years ago. But so many of current leaders-- political as well as business-- live in bubbles removed from reality.

Posted by Howard Gardner, on March 30, 2009 5:43 PM

A Mere Wake-Up Call

It is too bad the President did not find a way to fire the Board as well. There is little or no evidence that GM is prepared for the new reality.

Posted by Marty Linsky, on March 30, 2009 1:49 PM
Jeffrey Pfeffer

Change Must Come From the Top

The problems at GM have been decades in the making, but Wagoner did nothing to alter the course of the company's decline.

Posted by Jeffrey Pfeffer, on March 30, 2009 1:28 PM

One CEO Overboard

The administration threw one CEO overboard; will that fix the problems?

Posted by Mickey Edwards, on March 30, 2009 1:19 PM

Let's Avoid a Cultural Clone

The real challenge for GM will be to find a transformational leader from outside GM. Otherwise, we will simply be getting a cultural clone.

Posted by Noel M. Tichy, on March 30, 2009 1:10 PM

Change At All Costs

While leadership changes should be based on merit, sometimes there is a need for a change at the top in order to facilitate more dramatic changes and to enhance confidence among all key stakeholders.

Posted by David Walker, on March 30, 2009 11:28 AM

Doubts About Talent

Why else fire the CEO unless there are a multitude of doubts about his talent?

Posted by Abraham Zaleznik, on March 30, 2009 11:19 AM

Tough Management is Good Politics

The perception of tough management of taxpayer's dollars is both a strong signal and good politics. It just might help some bankers hear the drums beating, start to cancel their private jet orders, and shelve any new creative bonus strategies.

Posted by Andy Stern, on March 30, 2009 11:14 AM

Every Right To Call the Shots

In essence, the Unites States government and the taxpayers now own General Motors - and have every right to call the shots. A CEO is never more powerful than an owner.

Posted by Marshall Goldsmith, on March 30, 2009 11:08 AM

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FEATURED COMMENTS

rwyoung: The US Constitution is more important than GM or the US or the entire world's economy. Is it not a spooky to have our government running a ...

njr78: Honestly, at least GM makes real things. I find it hard to believe that ousting Wagoner is anything but political muscle-flexing on the part...

Noosa1: I am concerned to see the White House pulling power games on private industry. This could open the door for some bad situations. Politicians...

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