Posts Tagged ‘dishonesty’

Manipulation is emotional blackmail and an unquintessential leadership traitWe live in a society that is fundamentally dishonest. Nothing is ever as it seems. Lying is the norm. Selfishness and self interests drive everything we see, hear, and read.

Unfortunately, most of us – those in leadership positions and those who are not – are the perpetrators of this fundamental dishonesty and lying because we have become consumed by self-centeredness and our own self interests.

A predominant aspect of this fundamental dishonesty is our overriding propensity toward manipulation. We manipulate people. We manipulate situations. We manipulate things.

Manipulation is an unquintessential leader trait. 

Manipulation is insidious. Most of us aren’t aware of how much of our daily lives are based on manipulation.

Manipulation is subtle. It comes couched in altruistic coverings that hide the real purpose behind the manipulation (the hidden agenda).

Manipulation – doing it and resisting it – is a vulnerability for all of us because it plays on our emotions.

Emotions are the weak spot for each of us. Emotions are fickle, volatile, and unreliable in terms of making sane, logical, and rational decisions.

That is why manipulation works so well. It usually catches us off guard and depending on what emotional buttons get pushed – practiced manipulators can read these emotional buttons like the backs of their hands, even if they don’t know the people, situations and things they are manipulating – we can fall for it before we even realize what’s happened.

Manipulation is essentially emotional blackmail.

There are a lot of people who have perfected emotional blackmail, both those in leadership positions and those not in leadership positions. 

It’s important to remember that manipulation is not something that just crops up in adulthood. Manipulators are sometimes born, but they most often are developed from a very early age. 

There is something fundamental in our human character that steers us even as toddlers to try to find a way to gain an advantage over others – namely the adults in our lives – and get what we want.

We all usually try manipulation first. If the adults in our lives allow us to get what we want through manipulation, then we develop the habit of defaulting to manipulation as how we interact with everything else in our lives.

With time and opportunity, we get really good at manipulation. Eventually, unchecked, we perfect it until we simply don’t know any other way than manipulation to operate in the world.

If this is our lives’ trajectory, then we also become fundamentally deceptive, dishonest, and devoid of integrity, character, and trustworthiness

There are common emotional buttons that are pushed by experienced manipulators. These buttons are based on the primal emotions that drive the human race.

Fear is an emotional button that manipulators pushThe most common emotional button that seasoned manipulators push is fear. These include:

  • Fear for safety
  • Fear for security
  • Fear of harm
  • Fear of loss
  • Fear of punishment

Another common emotional button that skilled manipulators push is sympathy.

Sympathy is something that experienced manipulators don’t Manipulation includes pushing the sympathy emotional buttonfeel and practice themselves (in fact, manipulators are extremely harsh toward and brutally critical of everyone else and habitually advocate no sympathy for anyone else but themselves), but they are exceptionally good at generating it for themselves.

The sympathy emotional button gets pushed by the manipulator in the following ways:

  • Constantly drawing attention to themselves
  • Constantly presenting themselves as vulnerable and delicate
  • Constantly reminding everyone of how much they are suffering
  • Constantly seeking validation and accolades because of how “well” they’re suffering

A final common emotional button that experienced manipulators push is guilt.

Guilt is, in my opinion, the most subjective emotion we have and skilled manipulators don’t access it directly, but instead use insinuation. 

The guilt emotional button is sometimes pushed by this statement:

  • I’m disappointed…

The guilt button is pushed by manipulationGuilt emotional buttons, however, most often get pushed by some form of these two basic questions about what the manipulator has supposedly done for the person they are trying to manipulate:

  • Have you forgotten…?
  • Don’t you remember…?

The interesting thing about manipulators and the guilt emotional button is that the manipulator is always manufacturing a past that never happened (i.e., the balance sheet is not in their favor and often is the exact opposite of what they are insinuating).

But the combination of  lifelong manipulators with our innate – and sometimes outsized – human capacity to experience guilt (even if we haven’t done anything wrong – am I the only one who gets a little nervous when a police car is behind me on the road even though I’m obeying all the traffic laws?) makes this emotional button harder to handle logically, and it is, in my opinion, the one to which we are most susceptible.

One of the most maddening things about manipulation and manipulators, though, is that they expect everything and give nothing.

Manipulation is selfishness and self-centeredness on steroids. Manipulators will not give up anything. They will not take responsibility for anything.

Manipulators will vengefully attack anyone and everyone who resists and refuses to fall for their manipulation.

In fact, manipulators fight back against this by making the resistors and the refusers of their attempts to manipulate the “bad guys.”

Manipulators do this loudly, publicly, and relentlessly. And because they are effective liars, manipulators usually manage to convince a lot of people that those who can’t and won’t be manipulated are horrible, awful, despicable people who deserve nothing but contempt and derision.

For the majority of people who fall for the lies of manipulators, these resistors and refusers effectively cease to exist as part of the human race. 

It happens every day. Innumerable times a day.

Stop.

Look.

Listen.

Manipulation is all around us. Perhaps manipulation is in us.

Because we are striving to be quintessential leaders, we have to be aware of what manipulation looks like and how much of it may have crept into our own lives in our words and our actions.

That means being brutally honest with ourselves and asking the tough questions of ourselves.

Whether we are manipulators or not depends on our motivation in everything in our lives.

As quintessential leaders, we must ask and answer these questions of ourselves continually:

  1. Why am I saying this?
  2. Why am I doing this?
  3. Am I being honest?
  4. Is this exclusively for my benefit or will it benefit everybody?

If we’re honest – and those of us striving to be quintessential leaders say we are honest, so we must back that up with proof in a world that is fundamentally dishonest – we may find that a lot of what we say and do on a daily basis is designed to manipulate people, situations, and things to work in our favor and for our benefit.

This is the difficult work of quintessential leadership.

Most people are unable and unwilling to do it because it means changing who and what they are at the core level of their lives.

It means doing the right thing all the time, no matter what the personal cost. It means giving up some things. It means being selfless, even when it would be a piece of cake to fulfill our selfish desires.

Quintessential leaders are not most people.

How are we doing?

Volkswagon Cheaters Are Not Leaders“But everybody cheats!”

Really?

Everybody?

It seems to be a hardwired tendency in human nature that fuels the desire to cheat. Behind that desire is the promise of big rewards: winning a game, better grades, more money, big promotions at work, lots of stuff, and being the proverbial king of the hill: CEO, world leader, president or executive director of a non-profit.

And looking around, as those of us striving to be quintessential leaders do, it seems that cheating pays off in big ways. Cheaters seem to thrive because they cheat and because they are so good at it

The majority of people we see in leadership positions are cheaters. Of those, only a minority have been caught cheating. And even within that minority, many have cheated their ways out of being discovered as cheaters.

As a society, it seems we admire cheaters. We glamorize them and laud their schemes as brilliant and worthy of emulation.

Cheating is so accepted in our society that it shows up in our everyday language.

“I’m going to cheat on my diet just a little bit.”

“I admit that I cheated and substituted canned corn for fresh corn.”

Cheating is an integral part of our lives and vocabulary“I cheated and did my son’s math homework because I didn’t have time to explain it to him.”

“We cheated and ducked out of the reunion early to go to a movie.”

You get the picture. It is clear that the desire to cheat is so everpresent in our thinking that it makes its way very liberally in our speech (and clearly we don’t think before we speak because we give no consideration to what our speech says about our character).

“But it’s harmless. It’s just an expression. It doesn’t really mean that I would cheat on anything big or important. Lighten up!”

Harmless?

Notice the third sentence in that defense of using the word “cheat” in everyday conversation. That sentence – It doesn’t really mean that I would cheat on anything big or important. –  gives us insight into how deep the desire to cheat goes.

The speaker has just told us that they will – and do – cheat and they’ve given us the parameters within which they will or won’t cheat.

And since the speaker decides what is big or important (situational ethics), they’ve clearly given themselves the latitude to cheat at anything and everything.

How many times do we see disgruntled people in leadership positions of one organization leave and form a rival organization and then, by hook or crook (another cheating idiom), lure people from the original organization over to their new organization?

It literally happens all the time. Every day. Multiple times a day.

How many times do we – you and I – cheat every day?

With misinformation in the form of omission, slanting, twisting and spinning that puts things in a favorable light for us?

By cutting corners on something we are working on?

By doing our own personal things on someone else’s time and then taking the money for time when we were not actually working?

By embellishment or outright lying to make ourselves look better or to be seen in a more favorable light?

By manipulating other people emotionally to gain favor with them?

Cheating is rampant. As a way of thinking and being it is deeply ingrained in our society, in our species, and in each one of us personally.

But cheaters are not leaders. They are just cheaters. Morally and ethically bankrupt, they lack the ability, the talent, and the integrity to accomplish anything without cheating.

VW TDI Beetles, Jettas, Passats are among the 2009-2015 models with the cheating emission softwareThe emissions-cheating software (the software could detect an emissions test and could fake the right numbers to pass) that the people in leadership positions at Volkswagen approved and had installed on at least 11 million diesel cars (this is likely just the tip of the iceberg) is an example of cheating at the organizational level.

General Motors’ ignition switch debacle is another example of cheating at the organizational level.

It’s always tempting for members of the organizations to think “well, that was them, but it wasn’t/isn’t me” in the rare cases when organizational cheating comes to light (it’s important to understand that these are not isolated incidents for these organizations nor are they the worst examples of cheating they are guilty of).

Temptations are wrong for a reason. They always lead us down the path of darkness, which includes rationalization, blame, and excuses.

“I’m not guilty of cheating; I just worked there” is no different than the familiar military refrain of “I just did what I was told to do.”

To pull off organizational cheating, everyone associated with that organization in any way, shape, or form has to buy into the cheat.

Sometimes the buy in is based on disinformation or misinformation, especially the further you go down into the organization, but each person still has their individual responsibility for buying into the cheat.

It’s at this point that each of must confront ourselves. We all face this ethical dilemma more than we probably consciously realize, and, sadly, many of us shrug and say “That’s just the way things are,” and continue on surrounded by cheating and tacitly endorsing it by doing so.

In confronting ourselves, though, we must first look at our own lives to see where we think about – and sometimes act on – cheating.

We humans have a funny way of seeing our own character defects – like cheating – in a different (and innocuous) light than the character defects of others, whether they are individuals or organizations. In the process, ours become marginalized while everyone else’s becomes egregious.

That is why it so much easier to pass judgment on everyone but ourselves and why we can condemn everyone else and hold ourselves up as paragons of virtue.

It’s a lie we’ve gotten good at telling ourselves. None of us is as virtuous as we believe we are. We all – yes, even those of us striving to be quintessential leaders – have hearts of darkness that fight to govern our thoughts, our words, and our actions continually.

The difference, however, with those of striving to be quintessential leaders is that we are aware of our tendency toward being anything but virtuous. We are aware of our hearts of darkness that can sometimes burn intensely in our inner worlds.

And those of us who long to be quintessential leaders are actively engaged in the war to not only deny our vices and our black hearts, but to change our vices to virtues and the darkness of our hearts to light.

It is the war of our lives and the battles never stop coming. Admittedly, we lose our fair share of those battles along the way, but by staying actively involved in the war for our character and our integrity, eventually we see the results in fewer and fewer losses as we gain control over the territory of our minds and our hearts.

Are you a cheater or are you a leader?

You can only be one or the other.

How are we doing?

General Motors Gets a Slap on the Wrist for Defective Ignition Switch and 124 - So Far - DeathsUpdate 9/18/15:

The number of deaths linked to the defective ignition switch – a $5 part that could have been easily fixed – that General Motors knew about for years and yet sold millions of cars with them has risen to 124 (that number will most certainly go higher).

It was announced on September 16, 2015 that “In a settlement with prosecutors, no individual employees were charged, and the Justice Department agreed to defer prosecution of the company for three years. If G.M. adheres to the agreement, which includes independent monitoring of its safety practices, the company can have its record wiped clean.”

Update 12/14/14:

42 deaths from car accidents in General Motors models have now been linked to the faulty ignition switch problem. 

Update 11/11/14:

unquintessential leadership gm delphi ignition switch deathEmails uncovered by the Wall Street Journal show that General Motors ordered a half million redesigned ignition switches from Delphi two months before the auto manufacturer issued a recall on some – but not all – vehicles with the defective ignition switch installed.

As of October 30, 2014, the number of deaths acknowledged by GM to be directly linked to the faulty ignition switch has risen from 13 to 30.

However, General Motors continues to maintain that the people in leadership positions – the executive team – in the company had no idea about the ignition switch problem, the order to Delphi for replacement ignition switches that cost GM approximately $3 million, or the need for a general recall.

yellow-dividing-line

General Motors’ 2nd quarter profits, posted on July 24, 2014, dropped 85% from their 2nd quarter 2013 profits. Frankly, it’s incredulous to me, given the financial hit the U.S. automaker has taken in massive recalls due to years of knowingly using substandard and faulty equipment, which is directly tied to 13 known fatalities, that General Motors (GM) is making any profit at all. 

To those GM customers who’ve been impacted by the lack of quintessential leadership that has been in place at the auto manufacturer for decades – and, in my opinion, still could be with the current GM CEO Mary Barra, who began her career with GM since 1980 with a degree in electrical engineering, and in leadership positions within the company since earning her MBA in 1988 – that GM has any profits at all is likely a bitter pill to swallow.

faulty ignition switch unquintessential leader general motorsI will not recount the entire unquintessential leadership history of GM here. That would be a book to write and with writing a new book already currently in the works, I don’t have time to commit to another. However, I will highlight several areas where unquintessential leadership existed/exists and will include links that provide more detailed information about them.

The paramount unquintessential leadership trait of GM is they routinely put corporate profits above the safety of their customers

Starting in 2003, GM engineers redesigned and ordered modified ignition switches – with a torque setting that was below GM’s minimum requirements – from its supplier, Delphi. The cost of an ignition switch? 57 cents.

From 2004 to 2013, thirteen fatalities occurred involving GM cars that had the modified ignition switches installed. All but one of the accidents were single-vehicle crashes where the drivers lost control and crashed head-on into something, in most cases a tree. In none of the crashes did the airbags deploy.

Additionally, beginning around the same time period as the first accident, GM car owners began reporting that their midsize and compact-size vehicles were randomly and intermittently shutting off while they were driving them. 

In the 2004 crash involving a Saturn Ion that killed Gene Erickson, GM told federal investigators, who couldn’t understand why the car suddenly swerved into a tree and the airbags didn’t deploy, that the company didn’t have any answers as to why either.

However, just a month before GM talked with federal regulators about the accident, a GM engineer had concluded that the Ion had probably lost power, which would have prevented the airbags from deploying.

Investigations into fatal car accidents where mechanical failure is the most plausible explanation involve the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contacting the automobile manufacturer to see if (a) they have any similar reports; (b) if their engineers have determined a cause, using the car’s “black box” data; and, (3) whether it is an isolated problem or one that could require a general recall.

GM showed its unquintessential leadership trait of self-centeredness when decided to lie and obfuscate in the Erickson case because of money. Fines for an inexpensive part not meeting the company’s minimum standard, a possible lawsuit by Mr. Erickson’s family, and a large recall would have cut into GM’s profits. The shareholders wouldn’t be happy. People might lose their jobs. 

Therefore, GM’s response to federal inquiries into the subsequent 12 fatalities involving GM cars where mechanical failure was suspected was the same: silence.

Two other unquintessential leadership traits at GM are deception and dishonesty.

faulty ignition switch unquintessential leader gm general motorsIn 2009, despite years of knowledge about the faulty ignition switch and substantial evidence of conscious coverups by GM employees at every level in the company, GM engineers finally began to internally and quietly increase the torque on the faulty ignition switches.  

(And, despite what GM executives have testified to under oath, these engineers had the consent and knowledge of every person in a leadership position in every department – including the legal department, whose head denied any knowledge of the problem until this year – at GM.

To suggest otherwise is dishonest, which is why it remains to be seen if Ms. Barra will become a quintessential leader or will continue in the unquintessential leadership tradition that has, so far, defined GM’s leadership.)

However, when GM’s engineers made the change to the ignition switch, instead of creating a new part number for the ignition switch with the higher torque, which is standard operating procedure when any change is associated with a part or item to distinguish it from similar parts and items, they used the same part number assigned to the faulty ignition switch. This was clearly an act of deception and dishonesty.

(A simple example of distinguishing similar items by part number is how the part numbers of different wattage light bulbs might read: 40-watt bulb (40WBLB); 60-watt bulb (60WBLB); 100-watt bulb (100WBLB); and, 50-100-150-watt bulb (50100150WBLB).) 

The 2.6 billion recall of GM cars now underway is directly related to this deception and dishonesty. Because the two ignition switches didn’t have unique part numbers, there is no way of telling whether GM car owners have the defective switch or the corrected switch. Therefore, GM is having to replace all ignition switches in all GM cars with that part number.

Ms. Barra has a lot left to prove that she is not the latest GM CEO to be an unquintessential leader. When a CEO, who has insurmountable evidence to the contrary, states about a month ago that “I don’t really think there was a cover-up”, followed  by a lot of justifications and excuses, it is clear that Ms. Barra has absorbed a lot of the GM unquintessential leadership in the 34 years she has been employed there and, even if it’s possible, it will take a lot of time and effort to change what to her is a normal definition of leadership.

As always, it’s easy to look at a big corporation like General Motors and objectively see the unquintessential leadership within that company and shake our heads and perhaps even pat ourselves on the backs because “we’re not like that!”

But are we? Maybe not in all areas. Maybe not on the same scale in terms of causing peoples deaths and tanking corporate profits.

But here’s what we need to remember. Even one instance of unquintessential leadership that we don’t learn from and change immediately or just one unquintessential leadership trait that we are unable or unwilling to change, no matter how few people it affects, no matter the scale of the effects, puts us in the same boat as the unquintessential leadership at GM.

There are no degrees of right or wrong, good or bad, quintessential leadership or unquintessential leadership. It either is or isn’t. We either are or aren’t. 

Therefore, my fellow quintessential leaders, we should take a close and thoughful look at why the people in leadership positions at GM are unquintessential leaders and examine ourselves in the light of the unquintessential leadership traits we’ve outlined today.

How are we doing?

what's in for me unquintessential leadershipRecently I posted on the rampant narcissism and entitlement that pervades society, including most people in leadership positions, today.

The song in the video above, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?,” by Janet Jackson kept coming back to me as I’ve continued to think about the specific attitudes that characterize entitlement and narcissism, and this post will discuss a riff on this attitude, which is “What’s in it for me?”

The driving mindset behind “What’s in for me?” is simple and selfish. It translates into “I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t benefit or reward me.” It is manifested in many ways, a few of which we’ll look at today. 

One the primary places where this attitude and mindset exists is in modern sales and marketing operations. It is a key phrase that both salespeople and marketing specialists use when they are talking to customers, either in person or via media.

It’s rather duplicitous, though. On the surface, it seems to be selfless in appealing to customers’ narcissism and entitlement only. However, it’s revealing of the sellers’ mindset because when customers buy, sellers make money and profits, so sellers are always asking “What’s in it for me?” as well.

One of the ever-popular sales/marketing techniques where this attitude is blatantly revealed is pyramid or multilevel marketing (MLM) sales (also known as schemes).

Multilevel Marketing Pyramid SalesThese kinds of sales depend on a tiered sales system, where the top person in the tier gets paid every time everybody under them buys something. If the person has salespeople on their tier, then those salespeople get paid every time their customers order, and the top person on the tier gets paid as well.

In other words, every single sale in that tier amounts to “What’s in it for me?” That is a primary reason why MLM salespeople consistently have so much aggressive and repetitive marketing and advertising for products that are sold this way.

That is also why there are a plethora of “sounds-too-good-to-be-true” (remember what your parents taught you about this statement), unprovable, deceptive, and outright dishonest claims around many of the products sold using this method.

And, of course, the parent companies for these MLM products make a fortune on the backs of their salespeople (independent distributors).

Why?

Because the MLM salespeople do all the marketing, all the advertising, and all the legwork for new customers, and the cost to the parent company is minimal compared to direct sales and marketing costs for non-MLM companies.

This is the unquintessential leadership attitude of “What’s in it for me?” at its worst and most obvious.

What's In It For Me? Unquintessential Leader MindsetBut it would be a mistake to assume that this is not the mindset in the majority of organizations today, because unquintessential leadership abounds, and this is the unwritten and unspoken mantra that is the underpinning of that leadership.

Would it surprise you, though, if I told you that the “What’s in it for me?” attitude is not just a prevailing organizational attitude, but an increasingly prevalent individual and personal attitude as well? That means we – you and I – are very susceptible to having and operating by this unquintessential leadership mindset in both our private and public lives.

What does it look like in us as individuals? That’s what you and I, as people who are striving to be quintessential leaders, need to be able to identify so that we can ensure that it’s not an attitude that we have and live our lives by.

Let’s ask some questions to find out what this mindset looks like in us as individuals:

  1. Do we notice people in genuine need everywhere in our lives?
  2. Do we routinely and proactively offer to help people in genuine need (time, money, effort, etc.)?
  3. Do we help people in genuine need without expecting anything in return?
  4. Do we help people in genuine need without holding it over their heads, now or in the future?
  5. Would we offer to buy a stranger something to eat if they ask us for money for food?
  6. Would we give a stranger the coat or sweater we’re wearing if they are out in the cold without either?
  7. Would we be willing to share our last bit of food, heat, and clothing with a stranger who is also hungry, cold, and underdressed for the weather?

If we answered “no” or “it depends” to any or all of these questions, then we need to examine our attitudes for the unquintessential leadership “what’s in it for me?” mindset that has somehow begun to creep into our autopilot programming.

Obviously, none of us as individuals can take care of all the genuine needs that exist in the world. But within our little spheres of the world, we can certainly make a conscious and continual effort to do what we are able when we’re able.

And that means that we, as quintessential leaders, should always be proactively looking for genuine needs that we can fill.

When is the last time we cleaned out our family’s drawers and closets and donated the clothes, shoes, etc. that we don’t wear anymore to a homeless shelter or to a battered women’s shelter?

When is the last time we went – and took our kids – to visit homebound elderly people we know or elderly people in an assisted living facility or a nursing home? Many of these people have no visitors, including, sadly, their own families, at all and life, as they end it, is alone and lonely.

Selfless GivingThese are just a few examples. We should be able to come up with many more and take action to help freely and selflessly, because that’s the opposite of the “What’s in it for me?” attitude.

While these questions deal with our private lives, we also should be doing the same thing in our public lives.

When is the last time we had a conversation with our team members just to see how they’re doing and to see if they have personal needs that we can help out with?

A good example is the increasing number of employees who have a fulltime job at our organizations and also have a fulltime job at home as caregivers not just for their spouses and children, but additionally for their aging parents as well.

We could organize the rest of our team to provide meals for the employees and their families two or three nights a week (this could be as simple as a casserole and a salad made on Sunday and brought to work on Monday).

We could see if there are errands like grocery shopping or picking up medications at the pharmacy that we can do for the employees to cut down on the number of things they have to do in addition to working fulltime and being a extended family caregiver fulltime.

Again, this is just one example. As quintessential leaders, we should be looking for these areas to serve – because that’s what selfless giving is – others around us everywhere in our lives.

So it’s time for each us to look in the mirror of our lives and ask which of these questions defines our mindsets and attitudes: “What’s in for me?” or “What can I do for you?”

If the question is the first, then we need to make changes. If the question is the second, then there’s always room to improve.

How are we doing?

 

 

 

distortion of truth unquintessential leaderA couple of things have happened in February 2015 that have really made it obvious how thoroughly entrenched unquintessential leaders are in our society and how few quintessential leaders actually exist.

These two things may look like they are completely unrelated on the surface, but in fact they both underline how extant hypocrisy, revisionist history, and distortion are within the very fabric of our society.

That, to date, no one has looked at the big picture and connected the dots in any of these things to show the trifecta of unquintessential leadership – hypocrisy, revisionist history, and distortion – is a testimony that quintessential leaders are almost nonexistent on this planet. (more…)

Update: 12/16/14:

42 deaths from car accidents in General Motors models have now been linked to the faulty ignition switch problem. 

Update 11/11/14:

unquintessential leadership gm delphi ignition switch deathEmails uncovered by the Wall Street Journal show that General Motors ordered a half million redesigned ignition switches from Delphi two months before the auto manufacturer issued a recall on some – but not all – vehicles with the defective ignition switch installed.

As of October 30, 2014, the number of deaths acknowledged by GM to be directly linked to the faulty ignition switch has risen from 13 to 30.

However, General Motors continues to maintain that the people in leadership positions – the executive team – in the company had no idea about the ignition switch problem, the order to Delphi for replacement ignition switches that cost GM approximately $3 million, or the need for a general recall.

yellow-dividing-line

General Motors’ 2nd quarter profits, posted yesterday (July 24, 2014), dropped 85% from their 2nd quarter 2013 profits. Frankly, it’s incredulous to me, given the financial hit the U.S. automaker has taken in massive recalls due to years of knowingly using substandard and faulty equipment, which is directly tied to 13 known fatalities, that General Motors (GM) is making any profit at all. 

To those GM customers who’ve been impacted by the lack of quintessential leadership that has been in place at the auto manufacturer for decades – and, in my opinion, still could be with the current GM CEO Mary Barra, who began her career with GM since 1980 with a degree in electrical engineering, and in leadership positions within the company since earning her MBA in 1988 – that GM has any profits at all is likely a bitter pill to swallow.

faulty ignition switch unquintessential leader general motorsI will not recount the entire unquintessential leadership history of GM here. That would be a book to write and with writing a new book already currently in the works, I don’t have time to commit to another. However, I will highlight several areas where unquintessential leadership existed/exists and will include links that provide more detailed information about them.

The paramount unquintessential leadership trait of GM is they routinely put corporate profits above the safety of their customers

Starting in 2003, GM engineers redesigned and ordered modified ignition switches – with a torque setting that was below GM’s minimum requirements – from its supplier, Delphi. The cost of an ignition switch? 57 cents.

From 2004 to 2013, thirteen fatalities occurred involving GM cars that had the modified ignition switches installed. All but one of the accidents were single-vehicle crashes where the drivers lost control and crashed head-on into something, in most cases a tree. In none of the crashes did the airbags deploy.

Additionally, beginning around the same time period as the first accident, GM car owners began reporting that their midsize and compact-size vehicles were randomly and intermittently shutting off while they were driving them. 

In the 2004 crash involving a Saturn Ion that killed Gene Erickson, GM told federal investigators, who couldn’t understand why the car suddenly swerved into a tree and the airbags didn’t deploy, that the company didn’t have any answers as to why either.

However, just a month before GM talked with federal regulators about the accident, a GM engineer had concluded that the Ion had probably lost power, which would have prevented the airbags from deploying.

Investigations into fatal car accidents where mechanical failure is the most plausible explanation involve the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration contacting the automobile manufacturer to see if (a) they have any similar reports; (b) if their engineers have determined a cause, using the car’s “black box” data; and, (3) whether it is an isolated problem or one that could require a general recall.

GM showed its unquintessential leadership trait of self-centeredness when decided to lie and obfuscate in the Erickson case because of money. Fines for an inexpensive part not meeting the company’s minimum standard, a possible lawsuit by Mr. Erickson’s family, and a large recall would have cut into GM’s profits. The shareholders wouldn’t be happy. People might lose their jobs. 

Therefore, GM’s response to federal inquiries into the subsequent 12 fatalities involving GM cars where mechanical failure was suspected was the same: silence.

Two other unquintessential leadership traits at GM are deception and dishonesty.

faulty ignition switch unquintessential leader gm general motorsIn 2009, despite years of knowledge about the faulty ignition switch and substantial evidence of conscious coverups by GM employees at every level in the company, GM engineers finally began to internally and quietly increase the torque on the faulty ignition switches.  

(And, despite what GM executives have testified to under oath, these engineers had the consent and knowledge of every person in a leadership position in every department – including the legal department, whose head denied any knowledge of the problem until this year – at GM.

To suggest otherwise is dishonest, which is why it remains to be seen if Ms. Barra will become a quintessential leader or will continue in the unquintessential leadership tradition that has, so far, defined GM’s leadership.)

However, when GM’s engineers made the change to the ignition switch, instead of creating a new part number for the ignition switch with the higher torque, which is standard operating procedure when any change is associated with a part or item to distinguish it from similar parts and items, they used the same part number assigned to the faulty ignition switch. This was clearly an act of deception and dishonesty.

(A simple example of distinguishing similar items by part number is how the part numbers of different wattage light bulbs might read: 40-watt bulb (40WBLB); 60-watt bulb (60WBLB); 100-watt bulb (100WBLB); and, 50-100-150-watt bulb (50100150WBLB).) 

The 2.6 billion recall of GM cars now underway is directly related to this deception and dishonesty. Because the two ignition switches didn’t have unique part numbers, there is no way of telling whether GM car owners have the defective switch or the corrected switch. Therefore, GM is having to replace all ignition switches in all GM cars with that part number.

Ms. Barra has a lot left to prove that she is not the latest GM CEO to be an unquintessential leader. When a CEO, who has insurmountable evidence to the contrary, states about a month ago that “I don’t really think there was a cover-up”, followed  by a lot of justifications and excuses, it is clear that Ms. Barra has absorbed a lot of the GM unquintessential leadership in the 34 years she has been employed there and, even if it’s possible, it will take a lot of time and effort to change what to her is a normal definition of leadership.

As always, it’s easy to look at a big corporation like General Motors and objectively see the unquintessential leadership within that company and shake our heads and perhaps even pat ourselves on the backs because “we’re not like that!”

But are we? Maybe not in all areas. Maybe not on the same scale in terms of causing peoples deaths and tanking corporate profits.

But here’s what we need to remember. Even one instance of unquintessential leadership that we don’t learn from and change immediately or just one unquintessential leadership trait that we are unable or unwilling to change, no matter how few people it affects, no matter the scale of the effects, puts us in the same boat as the unquintessential leadership at GM.

There are no degrees of right or wrong, good or bad, quintessential leadership or unquintessential leadership. It either is or isn’t. We either are or aren’t. 

Therefore, my fellow quintessential leaders, we should take a close and thoughful look at why the people in leadership positions at GM are unquintessential leaders and examine ourselves in the light of the unquintessential leadership traits we’ve outlined today.

How are we doing?