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As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these 12 Southern California fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.

Failing its own test

A recall is nothing overwhelmingly new in the automobile industry. Numerous safety concerns have been brought up in the past from issues with Firestone tires a decade earlier, to countless news reports of SUV rollovers. Honda and Chrysler alone have recalls themselves this year. Human leaders will always be prone to human flaws. Any organization will be destined to fail in some capacity at some point. What makes Toyota's highly publicized failure remarkable isn't just a case in bad leadership, as much as it is also a great example of how society defines the standards for their leaders to follow.

Toyota failure stems from not meeting the standards it had set for itself. There were critical moments where decisions could have been made to avoid the accelerator recall years earlier, if Toyota had been willing to step on the breaks. In a climate where quarterly profits can determine one's livelihood, pressure causes the fear of failure. Like a damn filled with many leaks, trying to avoid small failures only sets the stage for possible great failure.

The mistakes a company such as Toyota makes have grave ramifications that affect the lives of consumers who trust Toyota to make a safe product. The greater question arises on how is accountability for such companies being established? Despite a long timeline of neglect it still took a tragic death in San Diego before action took place. In face of long standing issues with safety from numerous automakers, consumers and policy makers did little until it was too late. Then when that moment of failure occurs, attention swarmed upon it like a mob ready to set something on fire to ease their anger.

When demands are placed that do not allow room for failure, the potential to grow and develop diminish greatly. Toyota's humility during this process can be summarized by its apology on Tuesday. No one is immune to making a bad decisions, it is what we do after that decision which will determine who we will become. If they decide to take it, Toyota has the opportunity now to go back to their principle of quality that made them great and become something better after this incident. For the public at large, there is an opportunity now to reevaluate the standards by which we measure our companies and leaders.--Jimmy Duong

By Coro Fellows

 |  February 11, 2010; 1:24 PM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Why CEOs fail: the Toyota edition | Next: Emotional legitimacy

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