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Poor Leadership

by May 6, 2009, 6:09 am ET

DETROIT — General Motors Corporation Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner will step down immediately at the request of the White House. –Comcast.net Finance

I always liked Rick Wagoner. He is the quintessential Boy Scout. Probably makes a great neighbor and a wonderful friend, so I take no glee in his departure. On the other hand, he was not the right person for the job and hasn’t been for endless years. GM made cars few wanted and it hemorrhaged cash. (This should bother you just a tad, as it is your cash they are currently hemorrhaging.)

As an example, rumor has it that when GM unveiled the Aztek in 2001, there was only a gasp and then dead silence; an unspeakably ugly car instantly hated by one and all. (John Sullivan’s Aztec is for sale by way; e-mail him on pricing.) How, in all that is holy, could Wagoner allow a car like this to see the light of day? He should have laid his body in front of it sooner then having it hit the press.

As you can see, poor leadership devastates us all. But wait: put down that latte and read on. I am not at the good part yet.

It appears that he was forced out by the Obama administration. Is that not as embarrassing as it gets? It took an act of government to do what a board of directors should have done a decade ago. The fact that his board did not remove this sadly ineffective CEO is a glaring example of leadership that has failed miserably. This board had a moral as well as a fiduciary responsibility to do what was in General Motors’ best interest, and it proved to be absolutely worthless. If you think it gives a damn about GM, I suggest you smarten up. (If you think they care one iota about your bailout money, you need your head examined.)

So how does this little tirade relate to the emerging role of tomorrow’s recruiter? (See A Return to Recruiting: Notes, Thoughts, and Commentary.) Glad you asked. The future of recruiting is all about leadership and doing what is right for the clients you represent. For recruiting as a profession and for recruiters as individuals to thrive, it must add far more value. Recruiting, both individually as well as collectively, must develop the vision and the courage to act as leaders. We must move way from the concerns of politics, the pathological need to be liked and, as Jeremy Eskenazi put it, the “at your service” mentality that hurts us more then it helps. We must insert our opinion and thoughts where reinvention is required and lead through example. We must be willing to be unpopular. Please consider the following:

  • Be a leader. Going along to get along is a sadly compromised existence. It kills careers, companies, and, apparently, economies. The opportunity to lead — to make a real difference in your future and the futures of those around you — has never been better. The world of business has been decimated and needs individuals with the courage and creativity to do what is right. If we worry less about what is popular and more about the actionable items that have real meaning in terms of supporting organizational objectives, we will become leaders and we will be great!
  • Give them what they need: Yes; what they need, not what they want. Everyone knows what they want but few know what they need. (I want a Maserati Bora, but that’s not happening.) The difference between what they need as opposed to what they want is the sweet spot of leadership’s value. Take hiring managers as an example. They can be unspeakably inept in terms of how they handle candidates and conduct interviews. Become a quick study as it relates to their strengths and weaknesses. Give them positive reinforcement for what they do well (ranking candidates, for example.) Coach and carry them for the things they do not do well (making hiring decisions, for example). Short of shooting someone, do whatever it takes to provide the type of support they really need.
  • Innovate big time/question everything. The future of recruiting belongs to those who are willing to invent it. (See Recruiting, Innovation, and Thinking Differently.) I am not sure how things will look down the road, but I have a strong feeling they are not going to look like they did before the world came to an end. I suggest that all of us need to rethink what we do and how we do it. Are the best practices of the future the same as the best practices of the past? Do we really need to hire the best candidate every single time for every single position? Does diversity really create a better final product and how is that measured? Get my drift?
  • Don’t hire your friends. Like to spend time with your friends? Take them bowling. Recruiting is not a profession that lends itself well to cronyism as it colors one’s judgment. (Unless you work for the government, of course, because when you hire people with no brains and little experience, they better be your friends.) I can assure you that there is nothing I would enjoy more then doing a big project and hiring all of my friends. Sadly, some of my friends are not very good at what they do and to hire them would only demonstrate poor leadership. Think of your job as a recruiter to build a company one brick at a time with each brick being important. You wouldn’t use a brick that had a big crack in it because you liked the color, would you? Of course not. Think of your friends in that same way. If you have a friend that you think fits the job, toss them into the hat and have them evaluated along with the others. Do not push to have them hired because it goes against your role and mission.

As we enter the second quarter of 2009, I believe this country is in a financial mess that will not end anytime soon. The future is up for grabs and those individuals who demonstrate the ability to create significant value through courageous leadership will be on the road to real and meaningful success.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Lisa Matkowski

    Howard,

    Thank you for being an inspiration to us all. Your message was worth the read. I’m adopting a new mantra – live courageously! On that theme, tell Sullivan the $1 he was asking for the Aztec was overpriced!

    Warm Regards,

    Lisa

  • http://www.usp.org Brenden Wright

    Howard,

    Absolutely spot on! You bring up an outstanding point about courage. I’d like to expand that a bit. I think, as recruiting leaders, we need moral courage as well. We need the ability to stand up for what is right or the best for the organization even if it would be unpopular or difficult to do so. Make no mistake, this is never easy. But no one ever said effective leadership was easy. Have the moral courage to do the right thing. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Ghandi

  • Frank Gregg

    GM, Ford, Chrysler have been building cars and trucks they want us to buy, not what we want or need. GM expecially has put out some of the ugliest cars of the Big 3. Dodge put out the “tank” (RAM) that gets -0- miles per gallon and they wonder why they are in trouble. Ford names a vehicle the 500? What owner refers to his new vehicle as a “500″? Maybe what’s happening will be good after the dust settles. Think the executives and boards of directors will learn from all of this. Naa!

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/acquiringtalent Cheryl Duncan

    Great article Howard.

  • Leif Wennerstrom

    Great article! Since I deal with sales and sales leadership professionals, I often ask my managers:
    “Would your top customers want to deal with this person on their most critical business needs?” vs what I asked 10 years ago in my career:”Do you want to hire them?”

    Ironically, this is a more important question than what the manager is sometimes thinking:
    “Can I trust them with my most critical business needs?”
    I want my employee to put the customer and company before me- that is leadership!

  • Ronald Katz

    Howard,
    Excellent advice, as usual. And well-written and entertaining, as usual.

    Lacking courage and allowing managers to hire friends are two of the most common flaws I see. We must be willing to tell the emperor he is wearing no clothes. Thanks for the reminders!

    And one more thing, the Aztek drove as bad as it looked!
    Ron

  • Kelley Hekowczyk

    Interesting article. However, I’m having a hard time separating the fact that the Obama Administartion has NO business telling private industry what and how to run a business. Saying that Obama did what the board should have done a long time ago is not a good example of leadership. Find another example.

  • http://www.recruitingrevolution.blogspot.com Stephen Fogarty

    Howard, I always enjoy the satire in your writing. I still think back to the article you wrote on the OFCCP a while ago–it was simply awesome. While I have a little bit of a hard time making the correlation between the GM CEO and the role of a recruiter it definitely caught my attention. What a recruiter should focussed on I agree with whole heatedly. You call it leadership I have always called it organization building. A recruiter should not view their position as filling roles but building successful organizations. If you take this vantage point then it will cause you to think twice before taking an order and filling it. You will ask the question of whether filling that role will increase the effectiveness of the organization. We also have to stop putting emphasis on Time to Fill reports and hold recruiters more accountable for the success of the organization they recruit for. For some this is way too big of a leap when I mention it…BUT if you are an internal recruiter and have been recruiting for the same area of the business for several years and that area of the business is tanking–why shouldn’t you be responsible. You have built an effective organization. We may use different lingo Howard but I fully agree with your vantage point when it comes to leadership in recruiting.

  • Barry Hinds

    Unfortunately we don’t have to look far to find poor leadership in this country. All you have to do is look at the nightly news or read the worthless newspapers. We seem to have woven it very well into our schools, and culture for the past 40 years as we are now reaping the incompetence or lack of leadership in a big way. No other organization exemplifies this better than in our own government. They lead the way in poor leadership. If you can’t hack it in private business, government has a job for you! Yet the arrogance of government is to tell business how they should manage their company when they can’t even manage to go to the bathroom. Make no mistake about it, government makes Enron & GM look brilliant!

  • Jonathan Hefferlin

    Howard,
    You had 10 well deserved compliments.
    Now for mine, and a little historice perspective.
    Remember Vance Packard (STATUS SEEKERS) & the 1st nationwide survey contracted by Chrysler, to find out what cars people wanted? They answered, smaller and more efficient, which led to the downsized 1952-4 model line.

    They lost market share, and revised the question, asking what kind of car they thought their neighbor would like, which led to the 1955 ‘fin race’, Chrysler’s ‘$100 Mil. look’ and a 3 toned Dodge.

    GM builds fine cars and outsold Toyota (also down 40% in sales and asking Japan for a loan) in this country 30%.
    The media and Washington hasn’t helped them one bit calling their cars basically ‘crap’ and trashing Waggoner,
    Obama calling Buick a ‘toxic asset’ days after it won the best car in the world award (2006 models had an average of 1.22 problems in 3 years, along with Jaguar (!) knocking Lexus out of 1st place after 14 years).

    Bias, no. When you can afford anything and prefer a 226k mile Park Avenue that gets a min of 24 mph with a high performance engine you have to defend the team, right?

    Imports were slow to big build trucks and SUVs (what Americans wanted) and Waggoner shouldn’t be trashed for adjusting many times, yet a bit slow in an unprecidented drop in demand & hike in fuel costs. GM has consistently beat Toyota & Honda in quality reviews in recent years, sports 3-400 hp Caddies, Corvettes & the (now defunct) GTO that got 27-8 mpg on the road while the Smart Car (aka Stupid car) got only 34, and a death trap (what is the value of human life, anyway).

    I vote for GM to make the necessary changes and support their great products in the pipeline.

  • Howard Adamsky

    Hi Jonathan:

    Read with great interest your comment on my article entitled “Poor Leadership.”

    I too would love to see GM do well but they have a lot they need to change and a lot they need to make the public forget.

    Sadly and with few exceptions, the built crap for most of the mid 70′s to probably the mid 90′s. They were fat, arrogant and self important. I for one personally suffered as a result of trying to buy American. I was treated poorly by a company I supported by purchasing their car and they did not care if I lived or died. They believed they could build what they pleased and we would buy it.

    I drove a Honda Civic down to Cape Cod the second year it was imported to the US. It was wonderful. Like something I had never experienced before. I remember telling my girlfriend at the time that this car, will change everything. If I can see that, how did Roger Smith miss it. Worse, how does a buffoon such as Roger Smith not see what is happening to his market share as Japan demolishes the American automobile industry?

    I genuinely feel bad for the workers and their families who now suffer for the arrogance and utter lack of regard as it relates to leadership that is long gone. On the other hand I remain endlessly fascinated by companies that operated with blind, pompous impunity for decades and then attempt elicit sympathy when the hangover arrives after the part is over.

    Henry Ford once said that “any customer can have a car painted in any color as long as it is black.” This statement might seem trite or even cute today but it is indicative of the type of thinking that tainted leaderships decision making for endless decades. The final result is 3 CEO’s who go to DC begging for cash and are not even bright enough to leave the private jets home.

    No Mr Ford. We will indeed get the color we desire. You will build it or we will go elsewhere.

  • Jonathan Hefferlin

    Howard -

    Your points are very well taken, and I too thought the Astec, but I thought we were talking more the last 10-15 years when most GM products were very much improved, and the last 5 when Waggoner made a lot of changes, just not large or fast enough. Did you see where Toyota beat GM
    the 1st quarter, in losses -6.9 to 7.7 Billion depending on which report you read.

    Your 1st Honda was smaller than the ‘Smart’, aka ‘Stupid’ car, wasn’t it?

  • Howard Adamsky

    Jonathan:

    My grief with the big three goes way back to the days of Honda’s first imports.

    I agree that American cars have gotten better in the last decade but it is not because they want to make better cars. They do it, begrudgingly, because they have to make better cars. Ban the imports and we will go back to cars that start only 3 times a week. (In warm whether of course…)

    As an aside, the Honda was, as I remember, far less scary then the “smart car” of today.

    Fortunately, we can all sleep well in our beds knowing that Chrysler has hooked up with Fiat. My memory of Fiat is that they were so poorly built, they simply stopped selling them in the United States. Warms your heart, yes?

    Howard

  • http://www.bp.com John Amodeo

    I’m not so sure about the Bora, but I’m sure Maserati at least used “spellcheck.” You, being brilliant (and a friend I would hire), caught the typo and sanitized it. Try an “Aztek” search in Google or MS Word and realize that GM got it wrong in more ways than one.

    Is leadership overrated?