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Barbara Kellerman
Scholar

Barbara Kellerman

Barbara Kellerman is on the faculty of at the Harvard Kennedy School and the author, most recently, of Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, and Why It Matters and Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders.

The Courage To Be Sorry

About dysfunctional families, that great American sage, Dr. Phil, is wont to say, "This family needs a hero."

And so it is -- or was -- with America's auto execs. But now it's too late. Too late for them to do anything really right, and that includes the silly symbolism of things like hands-on driving from Detroit to D.C.

What we needed from at least one of these men (yes, all men) was an apology. We needed, for our own psychological satisfaction, one person in a position of authority to take personal responsibility. I might add the same holds true for other leaders, political leaders, union leaders and, especially, leaders in the financial sector, near all of whom fiddled while Wall Street burned.

What would such an apology look like? Here are the four key components: 1) an acknowledgment that mistakes were made; 2) an assumption of personal responsibility; 3) an expression of regret; and 4) an assurance that the errors of the past will not be repeated.

To be sure, just this week General Motors finally took out a print ad in Automotive News, acknowledging that "we have disappointed you ... and at times we violated your trust." But the fact is, in all this muck and mire, not a single leader or manager -- not Rick Wagoner in particular -- has had the personal courage and professional rectitude publicly to say, "I am responsible and I'm sorry."

That's our loss, because even a fallen hero is better than no hero at all.

Meantime, if we're so weak as to leave every one of these undeserving incompetents in place, well, then, we'll continue to get the leaders we deserve.

By Barbara Kellerman

 |  December 8, 2008; 7:17 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Radical Surgery Required | Next: A Moment for Soul-Searching Honesty

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WHY I'D LOVE TO BE THE NEW CAR CZAR, OR EVEN THE USED CAR CZAR.

I FIND THAT LAWYERS MAKE EXCELLENT CAR CZARS AND I HAVE BOTH DOMESTIC & FOREIGN CAR EXPERIENCE, NAMELY, FORD AND GM ON THE DOMESTIC SIDE AND HONDA AND TOYOTA ON THE FOREIGN SIDE

AND I KNOW CHINESE

为什么I' 是D的爱新的汽车沙皇,甚至半新车沙皇。 我发现律师做优秀汽车沙皇和我有两国内& 外国汽车经验,即,在外国边的国内边的福特和GM和本田和丰田

AND JAPANESE TOO.

I'なぜ; Dは新しい車の皇帝、また更に中古車の皇帝であることを愛する。 私は弁護士が優秀な車の皇帝を作る私持っている両方国内&をことが分り、; 外国の側面の国内側面の外国車の経験、即ち、フォードおよびGMおよびホンダおよびトヨタ

Posted by: brucerealtor@gmail.com | December 10, 2008 2:53 AM
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You're every bit as hypocritical as politicians Pelosi, Dodd and Frank for calling for the heads of the Big 3 CEOs and holding the American automobile industry to a different standard than the American financial industry. All of corporate America for that matter. CEOs in America make something like 300x more than worker bees. If you are not calling for wholesale firings on Wall Street while they're given money, not lent money like the Big 3, all the while the authors of the bailout, Dodd and Frank, have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wall Street and its PACs, you can't seriously believe what you write. With the manipulation of foreign currencies, in particular China's, the lack of tariffs on foreign imports such as steel and autos that put them on the same playing field as ours, the subsidization of foreign auto companies by their governments, the lack of Wall Street making loans with their bailout funds while their executives continue their lavish ways without oversight, you oversimplify this scenario. If you're going to hold the Big 3 CEOs to the fire, you'd best do the same for all corporate CEOs and our elected officials that get rich of the working class.

Posted by: Jeff | December 9, 2008 3:50 PM
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Real leadership requires the leader to stick his neck out for accountability and responsibility for actions/decisions made on his watch. No such position was taken by the Three CEO's for the millions of $$$$ they were compensated for total incompentence. Fire them all!!! There are many good potential future CEO's out there for a pittance of the compensation they are getting.

Posted by: Col. Bill Card, USMC(RET) | December 9, 2008 12:57 PM
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All three of the big three should be made to resign before the companies get one dollar

Posted by: Clyde | December 9, 2008 10:51 AM
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