Challenging Questions

One of the joys of leadership development work is that I get to hear a lot of really thought-provoking questions about the subject. They often do not have obvious answers, but they sure stimulate some deeper thinking. Following are a couple that come to mind, which will give you an idea of what I am talking about. I have added a comment or two, with no intention to provide a complete answer. I hope you will share opinions you have about these, or about other pesky questions you have received. This will help us all get better. Here we go.

1) In light of the massive GM recall recently announced, the question recently asked went something like this. With recalls like GM’s, cases of insider trading and other examples of illegal or unethical behavior, how do so many people involved in these get to top positions of companies? So, how would you respond to this?

This is an issue of role modeling. In fact, if you looked hard enough, you could probably build a case showing that business executives or politicians are all crooks. Of course this is not the truth, but there are plenty of incidents of people in leadership positions setting less than a stellar example. I would offer that real leaders have more than short term financial statements as their north star. And, they let selfishness or personal greed trump doing right for their various constituencies.

A major recall in the auto industry, or the removal of a defective, yet profitable drug in the pharma industry has got to be enormously costly. People will likely be OK with them if those actions are taken soon after the problems are discovered. But when there is evidence, or just suspicion, that the company has known of the problem, yet did nothing about it in order to maximize profit, then the wheels come off the track. And if one is truly leading, she or he cannot use the excuse of merely being in the dark about an issues of this magnitude.

2) Here is one, that came on the heels of the passing of Steve Jobs and all that was written about him. Why do people seems more willing to forgive the shortcomings of great visionary leaders much more so than other types of leaders. Steve Jobs was horrible at many of leadership behaviors (such as respect and dignity), but he was held up as an icon because of his great vision. And your response would be….

The great visionaries are frequently labeled charismatic and can even be likened to rock stars in their work. (And we all know the bad-boy image is part of the rock star aura.) Their inspiring persuasiveness can often times move people to action, in spite of their other major flaws. Yet, I would suggest you keep this in mind. If you start you own company or have extensive coercive power in your own organization, you, too, may be able to get away with vision overshadowing everything else. But in most cases, you will be shown the door if you are abusive to others or constantly behave like a jerk. And in those cases where people may feel forced to tolerate your abuse and comply with your demands for fear of losing their jobs, be advised they will never give you their very best.

In closing, if you are ever short of interesting dinner conversation about leadership, you might put these questions on the table and see what kind of response you get. And the more you continue to delve into these kinds of questions, the more thoughtful you will become about many of the challenges of today’s leaders.

Share Your Thoughts