Failure of Leadership and Culture


The ’leaders’ in Washington can’t reach a budget agreement … so my daughter (whose husband is in the military) has her honeymoon canceled and the zoos are closed. Can leadership be any more lacking than to allow things like this to happen? Can a culture be much worse than the one in D.C.?

In a recent interview with the New York Times Jonathan Klein, CEO of Getty Images, addressed culture and leadership saying, “So I wrote seven leadership principles, and they are still the bedrock of the company. The first is ‘trustworthiness, transparency and openness;’ followed by ‘the obligation to care;’ ‘lead by example;’ and ‘raise the bar.’ Then ‘one voice, collective responsibility,’ which is about creating a culture of us and we, not me and I. Next is ‘bring me solutions,’ because in a lot of organizations the person who points out a problem gets credit. Here, you’ve got to also come up with a solution. And, finally, ‘no silos.’ Every year, everybody is rated on how well they live up to those principles.”

He hit the nail right on the head in terms of what is lacking in so many organizations – and not just the big ones; but he also nailed it in describing Washington. I am especially struck by two of his issues: That people often get more credit for pointing out problems than they do for coming up with workable solutions, coupled with ingrained silo thinking.

In so many companies assigning blame for failures occupies more time and thought than fixing poor processes. ‘Solutions’ are often over-simplified and good for the people in a silo, but of little value for the company overall. Sales folks blame incompetent production when shipments are missed; production people blames sales for inaccurate forecasting. The blame should really be assigned to an inadequate, integrated process and simply cracking a bigger whip at production or demanding better forecasts will not work and don’t really address the problem. But neither side is nearly as concerned about solving the problem as they are about making themselves look blameless.

The debacle in Washington is precisely the same. The focus of all parties concerned seems to be far more on selling us on the idea that the other party is to blame than it is on actually improving anything. And ‘solutions’ are little more than grossly over-simplified platitudes that offer no real chance of ever being implemented, let alone working.

Interesting, however, that we can easily see dysfunctional cultures and inadequate leadership in companies, and easily blame CEO’s, CFO’s and other executives for their failure to fix the obvious problems and straighten out the cultures of self-preservation and ignorance – yet we don’t see the onus to do the same in ourselves. After all, aren’t we the CEO’s of the United States? Or at least sitting on the board of directors.

Easy to rant and rail against executive who conjures up absurd strategies, misses the obvious and when it all backfires, retains his off-the charts salary and bonus, but lays off low level employees and jerks customers around … punishing the innocent while preserving their own interests. But aren’t we doing the same thing when we continue to re-elect the likes of Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid and most of the rest of Washington? A couple of guys long on blaming and fault finding, short – wholly lacking, in fact – on bringing together real solutions to complicated, tough problems; and perfectly willing to close the zoo and cancel a military person’s honeymoon when their lack of leadership brings about the inevitable results?

If you are reading this blog chances are you are a student and practitioner of lean thinking; and I think Mr. Klein described the principles of lean leadership pretty well. I would suggest you use his “seven leadership principles” when you listen to your elected officials today. Whether you get your information from Fox News, MSNBC, or somewhere in the middle, ask yourself is my congressman, senator or President bringing me solutions or assigning blame and seeking credit for pointing out problems? Is he offering workable solutions to tough problems, or simply engaging in silo thinking? If the problems are the economy and healthcare, simply passing the budget and continuing down the path of Obamacare ignores them, but keeps the folks in the Democrat’s silo content; but simply defunding Obamacare hardly fixes the economy or healthcare, but it keeps the Republican silo occupants happy.

Look to see if anyone from either party ignores fault finding and offers up solutions that cross party lines and silo interests. See if anyone speaks with “one voice, collective responsibility” for any of this. Listen for your official to demonstrate even a modicum of “trustworthiness, transparency and openness;” “the obligation to care;” or a willingness to “lead by example”. When we find it lacking – and there is no doubt we will – we should ask ourselves, how can I possibly dare to criticize my boss, my CEO, any CEO for his short term thinking and selfish lack of leadership when I have been perfectly willing to do the same by re-electing this bum?

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