Monday, April 6, 2009


Good leaders are empathetic by nature. I often made great connections with CEO's and owners after I started my own firm because I started to see life through a different set of eyes. When meeting alone with CEO's in a financial crisis, I would make observations on how they were feeling at the time. Almost every time, the CEO would look at me relieved that someone understood how they felt about what was going on. Being empathetic led to a number of long-lasting relationships.

Gail and I were speaking this morning and the topic of empathy and Rick Wagoner, the former CEO of GM, came up. It is probably time to be a little empathetic to Rick Wagoner. I don't know Rick, but I am sure he is probably a good guy. He spent his entire career working for and then running an icon of American industry. When he became GM's CEO, he inherited a number of legacy issues and a business on the decline. He tried as hard as he could to fix GM in what he thought was the best way.

Unfortunately, one of the almost fundamental truths about corporate financial crisis is that the CEO who has presided over the company for the past several years or more, is not the person who can lead the company out of the crisis. The current CEO is too invested in the current ways of business and can't see what an outsider can see. It is called "being human". A flaw we all suffer with from time to time.

GM requires such radical change so quickly, it was not possible for a CEO of eight years to cut deep enough, quick enough. It also was not possible for him to threaten bankruptcy which is necessary to get the various stakeholders to give the required concessions. He was probably too close to the situation and too personally invested to be objective. He is not a bad guy. He is just human, like the rest of us and he deserves a little empathy.

Cheers, Mike

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