The Wall Street Journal article, Wednesday, April 7, 2010, “GM’s Plodding Culture Vexes Its Impatient CEO,” is a refreshing perspective on the lost and found art of leadership.
First, leadership lost. That’s evident in how GM got into its predicament. No need to belabor this point. Labor and line management simply lost their input into the leadership decision making process. Labor—you know, the ones actually listening to the customers; engineers—the ones capable of running the place. What do they know?
Enter GM CEO Edward E. Whitacre Jr. and leadership found.
Here’s the story of this big meeting where Ed was called upon to approve plans for the next generation of cars and trucks. Before pictures, charts, projections, whatever could all be hauled out, Ed dismissed the presenters. Ed told them they were capable; make the final decision. What, empowerment?
In another situation, a recently appointed senior executive wanted to reshuffle the people that were assigned to him in the process. Go right ahead, per Ed, build your own team.
Then there is the report of “Ed sightings.” Here there are storylines about Ed giving employees a lift to work, visiting in the factories and swapping stories with the workers, sharing his belief “that General Motors is an American institution that the country can’t afford to lose.” Yes, pretty cool stuff.
Think of the communications process throughout a merger or acquisition as a cultural moment wherein leadership is either lost or found. Reaching deep into the organization, sharing your beliefs, practicing your principles, bestowing trust builds loyal followers. Without loyal followers, there is no leader. No GM.
For those interested in a refresher course, there are a number of good titles at http://www.leadershipnow.com/leadershop/leadership_classics.html; including the precursor to Ed, i.e. “My Years with General Motors” by Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.