Accountability…A Tale of Two Leaders

Last week, Mitsubishi Motors announced that they cheated on fuel-economy standards. They admitted that this cheating affects about 620,000 cars but that further investigation might bring those numbers up to the millions.

Sound familiar? Last October, I published two blogs about Volkswagen doing exactly the same thing. Only this time, there is a notable difference…

CEO Martin Winterkorn of Volkswagen responded to the news of his company’s massive transgressions by saying he was sorry but quickly added “I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part”. He acted as if someone else was in charge and accountable for running the company.

Who me? Do anything wrong? It was the employees’ fault…

Now we have the example of Tetsuro Aikawa, President of Mitsubishi Motors. In announcing his company’s wrongdoing, he was quick to say “we believe this manipulation was deliberate” and called it “shameful.” Then, in front of the world’s cameras, he bowed deeply in apology and acceptance of responsibility for what his company had done.

The best leaders create a culture that emphatically lets employees know that cheating is not tolerated. That lying is not tolerated—not to regulators, not to your own customers, not to anyone.

The leaders of both Mitsubishi Motors and Volkswagen failed the culture test. Their people believed that cheating is fine if it helps cut costs, pleases regulators, and sells more cars.

Another test for leaders is how they accept responsibility for what happens in their company, particularly the negative things. The best leaders accept full responsibility for any wrongdoing that takes place and for anything that goes awry on their watch. This is a test that Mr. Winterkorn failed miserably and Mr. Aikawa aced.

When things are going well, the company is growing, and profit margins are increasing, leaders find it easy to accept responsibility. It’s fun to listen to the applause and rake in the big bonus. But when things aren’t going so well, most find it very difficult to accept responsibility…so they don’t. They blame their employees or events beyond their control.

But the best leaders, the best leaders give all of the credit for the company’s success to their people rather than themselves. And when things go badly, as hard as it may be, they plant responsibility squarely on their own shoulders rather than look for scapegoats.   And they apologize in front of the cameras with shame on their face and a quiver in their voice.

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Connect

 

People forget what you said,
People forget what you did,
People remember how you made them feel.
           Maya Angelou

In extensive travels around the United States and internationally, I meet a lot of people. People of all types, from all walks of life, from many different countries and cultures. Early on I realized that everyone knows something I…and you…don’t know. Everyone has something to teach you.

Many people don’t seem to understand this. They forge a few strong connections with those in their own social or work circles, but make no effort at all to connect with the myriad people they run across in their daily activities. The serving staff and bartenders at events, the desk people and cleaning crew at hotels, the flight attendants, dry cleaners, shop owners.

Since I run a business advising CEOs, business owners, and family enterprises, and also sit on several boards, I’m always trying to grow my knowledge about how different businesses really operate, from the ground up. I’ve found no better way to do this than to listen, just listen…to everyone.

I’m often asked how I connect so well with such disparate people and wind up hearing the incredible and sincere stories they share with me about their work lives. Stories that inspire me, enlighten me, and add to my knowledge about how organizations work and how they can work better. Stories that express how people really feel about their work and the companies they work for. Stories filled with insights that have been bottled up because no one took the time to listen.

How I’m asked, do I connect with them, not just at a superficial level to order another drink or complain about something I’m unhappy about, but at a deep level where they open up and trust me with thoughts they normally keep to themselves.

The answer can be found between the lines of this Maya Angelou quote. People open up to me, and they’ll open up to you, based on how you make them feel. Do you treat them like a piece of furniture, or show them that you respect them and are genuinely interested in what they have to say?

Years ago I discovered an interesting thing. All it takes to connect with people is to listen to them. Really listen. Listen not only with your ears but also with your full body and mind. Be totally with them in the moment and focused only on them.

Ask a simple question or two to get them talking and then let their words soak into you while your mouth is still. Perhaps offer an encouraging comment here and there or a similar example from your life, but otherwise…just listen. Let them share their story at their own pace, in their own words. It’s what we all want, to feel that we’re being truly listened to.

The most amazing thing about spending ten or fifteen minutes totally focused on listening to someone is that they’ll remember you and your unexpected kindness. They’ll remember how you made them feel. You might even make their day.

And what about you?  When you enter the world of someone so unlike you, you’ll come away with new ideas and ways of looking at the world around you. Who knows where this may lead you?

As Maya Angelou says, people remember how you made them feel. Leave them feeling great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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