Uncritical admiration of a 5-year-old
Q: Tony Hayward, once credited for BP's "green" turnaround, is forced to resign in disgrace. Michael Dell, the revolutionary high-tech entrepreneur, is sanctioned for misleading investors. Wall Street titans, once lionized, are now reviled. Where have all the CEO heroes gone?
When asked about the quality he wanted most in his generals, Napoleon replied, "Luck." On this score Tony Hayward would not have got a job with Napoleon. Of course it could be argued that he failed to rise to the PR challenge, but the roots of the blowout problem were sown long ago when safety standards were set. Michael Dell, on the other hand, has been much more the master of his own destiny. And if you name a company after yourself, you're creating quite some expectations about your own personal performance and behavior.
The common thread that binds Hayward and Dell together is that both their companies have long been the subject of admiration and emulation. That makes their fall from grace even more galling to the rest of us. If we can't even trust the people we are emulating, what does that say about our own judgment?
But the mistake is ours, aided and abetted by the press. Individuals are put on pedestals, giving rise to unreasonable expectations, only to be cast down when things go wrong. We need to be careful about what we expect, and learn from the mistakes of leaders as well as from their heroics.
So where have all the heroes gone? The same way as the heroes before them. Those who have the spotlight of publicity and fame come and go. We should look and learn, while reminding ourselves that uncritical admiration is probably best avoided after the age of 5.
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