A bad year for leadership
Two leaders I would single out are FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair for her handling of the banking crisis and Ford CEO Alan Mulally for steering his company through the problems besetting the auto industry. But, frankly, we haven't seen a lot of exemplary business leadership this year. It's much easier to come up with instances of failed leadership. Apparently, the public agrees, given recent surveys showing a decrease in trust in the nation's CEOs.
The tone for this year was probably set at the end of 2008, when the auto-industry CEOs flew in private jets to Washington to ask for taxpayer-funded bailouts. Then we've had to witness the spectacle of major companies - many of them rescued by public money -- making plans for huge executive bonuses, even as they've let go of employees. That seems to go beyond a failure of leadership; it looks more like complete unawareness of the leader's role.
Now these same companies are returning their bailout money to the government and trying to reap a public-relations bonanza from it. But the only reason they're returning the money is so they can be eligible to hand out fat bonuses again. They're taking care of themselves first and foremost, and it's pure greed on their part. Maybe our government should do what the leaders of Britain's government just did in passing a one-time, 50 percent tax on bonuses over 25,000 pounds.
President Obama has had some good moments of leadership this year, particularly in certain speeches he has made. His Nobel address, for example, demonstrated leadership when he spoke the uncomfortable truth that sometimes war is necessary to stop the spread of evil. I also admired his speech in Cairo when he asserted that while the U.S. sees itself as a leader, it is also a committed partner in the community of nations.
Still, the president has made his share of missteps this year. He tried to own a job that wasn't his when he fired the chairman of General Motors. He failed to articulate the reasons for the urgency of health care. He hasn't laid out a clear, definite strategy for taming the economic situation. To say he inherited the previous administration's mess isn't good enough. It comes across as making excuses, and that's not what leaders are supposed to do.
On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans showed a failure of leadership with their talk of "death panels" and other overheated language in their efforts to hinder health care reform. Even worse, they failed to offer constructive alternatives to the Democratic proposal. Their primary weapon was fear mongering, which is no way to lead people to a better future.
Part of leadership is being able to anticipate trends. It bothers me when people say they couldn't have done any better because "this is the environment we're in." But we count on our leaders in all fields and all industries to understand the environment and have a sense of where it could be heading. Let's hope we'll see a stronger brand of leadership in 2010.
Posted by: alance | December 17, 2009 12:13 PM
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