The unthinkable happens today. GM declares bankruptcy. All of my U.S. readers will jointly own over 70% of what’s left of it. And “our” management will be cutting deeper and deeper, making the company smaller and smaller, hopefully leading it back to a new life and a new prosperity. As is always the case, I’m wondering: What’s the lesson for the “everyday leader” – manager, parent, pastor, worker? And if you’re new to Reading for Leading, trust me, the answer isn’t “Rick Wagoner’s an idiot.” I’d say instead three things:
- Corporations – from the Latin, corpus, or “body” – like humans, get sick and die. And like all living beings they tend to be slow to react to subtle environmental changes, and they have great capacity for denial. So, we would all do well to keep a ruthless eye on outside factors, and a skeptical outlook on our own extraordinary capacity for denial and wishful thinking about those threats. GM and the other big autos (Toyota recently said they have only $18.5 billion in cash reserves – about the same amount as Ford – and they expect to lose money this year) are suffering from the “perfect storm:” gas prices that killed their lucrative market, crashing demand, over-capacity, frozen capital markets, and an inability to change rapidly enough. The perfect storm could hit you: whether you’re leading teenagers, retail workers, or a not-for-profit. It would behoove you to coldly and analytically assess the realities and the threats on your horizon.
- There is zero room for internal friction in the engines of our organizations, because change is coming too darned fast and competition is too strong. Labor and management alike need to shift from zero-sum internal battles to the opportunities in synergy and cooperation. Cultures must learn to encourage creativity and risk-taking and then learn from mistakes. Internal political squabbles have to end. Egos have to be managed; they are tremendous fuel sources, but they burn with great inefficiency by generating unnecessary and destructive internal differences. So, find the lubricants for your churches, teams, offices, and even homes. Use a lot of appropriate praise and generate candor so that mistakes can be talked about and differences brought into the open.
- Everyone’s got to contribute. The job banks – where laid off workers remained on payroll – were the most egregious example of a luxury the American economy can no longer support. But more importantly, we all have to generate a culture where people feel like they belong, own a sense of accountability and are looking to contribute every day. Jennifer and I were so excited to hear Kate’s enthusiasm as a “lowly” worker at the delicatessen she’s working at this summer. She said: “I love it there. Their motto is ‘great food, great service, great finance,’ and we are all expected to contribute to the business.” She’s worked other places and made more money, but I’ve never seen her so geeked, because she matters there; they think she makes a difference and she wants to try to do just that.
What can you do today to: be open-eyed about risk, lubricate the system you’re in, and promote total involvement by everyone in the system? Do those things, and you’ll decidedly
Lead with your best self,