I read two articles recently that caught my attention. They did so because each published a report illustrating a moral failure that 21st-century leaders commit far too often. In fact, we hear stories like this every year.
I believe our problem is—we value production over principles.
Ford Knew Their Cars Were Defective
“Ford Motor Company knowingly launched two low-priced, fuel-efficient cars with defective transmissions and continued selling the troubled Focus and Fiesta
So, this major manufacturer of automobiles released two models that weren’t ready for consumer use, even when the factory knew it. In short, the show must go on.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Ford vehicles and have owned some during my life. My goal is not to throw anyone “under the bus.” I just wish Ford automakers had gotten “under the hood” one more time. They should have stopped the assembly. This is reminiscent of NASA in 1986 when we sent up the space shuttle, Challenger. Several engineers had warned NASA of defective parts; the shuttle was not ready to launch. But, the deadline had arrived. We sent seven people up who never survived the trip.
The Lesson for All Leaders
This is a leadership lesson we consistently are reminded of, especially in our day, when we worship results, even at the expense of integrity.
The automaker pushed past company attorneys’ early safety questions and a veteran development engineer’s warning that the cars were not roadworthy, internal emails and documents show. After the problem was obvious, Ford then declined to make an expensive change in the transmission technology, the Free Press discovered.
Further, once top leaders knew the problem, Ford continued to downplay the problem and mislead consumers about its magnitude. They would soften the impact and make it sound smaller than it was; that it was no big deal.
1. Leaders ignore the warning signs and continue blindly forward.
It’s easy to become intoxicated with progress and ignore cautions from colleagues. We want results so badly, we can turn a blind eye without knowing it. Even good people can be victims if we love winning more than integrity. Every leader needs accountability because leaders love growth and success. To put it bluntly, our commitment to integrity can be easily eroded by our love of progress.
2. Leaders refuse to make the necessary changes to fix the problem.
Even when we’re forced to acknowledge a flaw or weakness, too often we leaders can say the right words and still avoid making adjustments. If we do make a move, it’s often to patch things up rather than make things right. Trouble brews when our integrity doesn’t keep pace with the momentum created by our appetites, our giftedness, or our technology.
3. Leaders misrepresent the truth, deflecting attention away from it.
Author Andy Stanley said, “Our talent has the potential to carry us further than our character can sustain us.” Let’s face it; we’re all susceptible to this weakness. Our gut pushes us forward when our conscience whispers to us to pause. Many of us have a keen enough intellect, capable of rationalizing any decision and making it feel moral.
So, the argument I make for myself and any leaders like me is:
- We need accountability from others who watch details other than production.
- We need a “report card” for integrity and morality in addition to production.
- We must celebrate ethical decisions the same way we celebrate production.
The pages of American history are sprinkled with such stories. In the 19th century, Henry Clay desperately wanted to become president. However, he made a decision while serving in congress that altered his career and likely took him out of the race. He attempted to pass a bill that he knew was right for the American people, but was very unpopular among his colleagues.
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