April 15, 2007
Calling for the Boss’s Head
Maybe it’s just a heightened sense of awareness on my part, but I feel like our culture has really turned up the time-to-fire-the-boss-o-meter to a new level of late. What is going on that has caused the media and vocal people among us feel this thirst for public lynchings over a single incident? The list isn’t small — just in recent weeks or months, you have Rumsfeld, Dunn (HP), Gonzales, Imus, Wolfowitz, and even last week, Snyder (Vonage). And I’m sure there are a dozen others, both corporate and political, that I’m not dredging up mentally here on a Sunday night.
Now I’m all for accountability, believe me, but sometimes it doesn’t help an organization for someone to resign at the top over a single incident. Jarvis says it best when he says that he would have fired Imus a long time ago because he’s boring and because he’s always been a racist, not because of a few choice words last week. Should chronic poor performers be dismissed regardless of level? Absolutely. Should a leader be forced to step down just to make a point? I’m much less certain. In some ways, to carry Jarvis’s theme forward, that kind of dismissal is just a sign to me of lackadaisical oversight along the way, finally coming to a head.
I’m no psychologist, but my guess is that in many cases, a flash dismissal of another otherwise competent leader can pretty bad and traumatic for the underlying organization (be it a company or country). Consider the alternative — an honest apology, some kind of retribution, and a clear and conspicuous post-mortem — that leaves the ship with its captain and sends the message to the troops that honest mistakes are tolerated as long as they’re not repeated and amends are made.
This in no way is meant to defend the actions of any specifics of the above list. For many of them, their actions may have prompted an unrecoverable crisis of confidence. But for my part, I’d rather see regular accountability and transparency, not just at the peaks and troughs.