Welcome to the Leadership Files


Why American Business Has Lost Heart

A perspective on business, mis-leadership, and greed.

This is an evolving essay from my perspective of what has happened in American business over the last 10 years or so.  It revolves around leadership, or the lack of it, and how some of the most important elements of leadership have been sacrificed for personal gain.

Over the coming months this work will continue to evolve so stay tuned.

by Mark Strickland


Sometime in the last decade leadership has turned into selfishness. Senior management behavior has changed from looking after business, creating jobs, developing markets, and making a profit to doing what ever it takes to make a profit. In the past they were rewarded for building a business but today the focus seems only in building the bottom line in exchange for obscene personal reward.

CEO's and other senior management have begun to act like Pavlov's dog. Stock options, sign-on bonuses, and out-right, huge "carrots" have created some very brutal and dishonest tactics by senior management resulting in an unprecedented impact on the workers in America. When the "carrot" is huge so becomes the greed. A fifty-million dollar bonus payment would get just about any "dog" to do whatever it takes to get to the "meat". 

In the Dot Com era, the cash was there and the CEO’s felt they were just getting their fair share for a job well done, but now in the Dot Bomb era, they are trying to salvage companies that they themselves set up for failure and are still earning those huge salaries and bonuses. Many have resorted to blatant dishonest behavior like Enron or WorldCom, so not only are these companies suffering from the mismanagement that resulted from greed and a lack of vision, they are trying to keep the companies out of bankruptcy after they restate their books from the previous dishonest behavior. With pension plans already trashed, the infrastructure of these companies is being gutted in the name of saving the company. All of this is being done again, without vision, and the old CEO somehow keeps his house and golf club privileges. The new CEO will walk away in a few years with huge payments, whether the company survives or not, and the American workers will be the ones to pay the highest price.

So what has happened to leadership and vision? Where has honesty gone? What about the American Dream where hard work is rewarded by success? Read on for a little history lesson and some thoughts on how all of this could change. What can be done to return America to a time where leadership, vision, and honesty were once the foundation of business success?

Chapter 1

The Success of Real Leadership

It is possible to achieve short term success by means other than leadership.  Fear, intimidation, and just plain pressure from a person in authority can get things to happen, but real long term success is accomplished through leadership.  This is not to say leaders don't take firm and sometimes commanding action but generally they lead from a position of respect.

First hand experience tells me there are few leaders in business that actually communicate a clear vision for their organizations.  That raises another question ... are they really leaders ... but I will cover that later.  Whether it is a company wide software rollout, a new product, or a new business organization it takes "cheerleaders" at the top to maximize the performance of an organization.  Without the "cheerleaders" projects tend to "muddle" along.  Many projects do achieve their goals but some involve much political fighting, low productivity of those involved, and some just plain fail.  This "cheerleading" must be highly visible and unwavering.  It needs to reach every employee directly from the top so they experience the vision first hand.  I cannot be a single announcement but it should be a topic at every opportunity from board meetings to encounters on the elevator and everywhere in between.  Every day and every opportunity should be seized if the project is important and far reaching.

Those single announcement visions are seen as another "program of the month club deals".  People read them and they become a bit of joke.  It is as if they announce that the company has a new product but nobody ever trains anybody how to build it so the "program" fades out or becomes a project that struggles due to politics or other hurdles that most will not put out extra effort to over come because they feel they are alone in their commitment.

If the top ranking leaders don't endorse projects that have wide ranging impact how do they expect the rank and file to endorse them and work hard to achieve success with these projects?  If endorsement of the project is explicit and it becomes clear how it fits the overall vision then others will tend to follow and a chain reaction is started.  This creates a synergy and the probability of success is multiplied because more people "believe" it is the right thing to do.  Even if their belief is only mild the leverage is multiplied.

Real leadership brings out the best in people.  They work harder, they work smarter, and they push the edges of their realm of responsibility and authority.  If the leadership is sound this push is not a brutal steam roller but "an on the fly" continuous negotiation of boundaries.





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Material Copyright © 2003 by Mark L. Strickland