"Sun, Oct 26, 2008 The New Paper I feel bad, but I won't say sorry
SORRY used to be a common word. From extra-marital affairs to bad business decisions to corruption, CEOs of the past used to toss apologies freely and abundantly. But not anymore.
As the world grapples with the biggest financial crisis in a long while, the sorry machine has ground to a halt, reported USA Today.
The silence from politicians, regulators and past and present CEOs at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Bear Stearns, Countrywide Financial, Merrill Lynch and Washington Mutual is telling.
The reason is simple: Saying sorry may be construed as an admission of guilt, and open you up to legal concerns.
When Lehman Bros CEO Richard Fuld testified on Capitol Hill recently, members of the US Congress grilled him to own up. Mr Fuld said he takes full responsibility for his decisions, that he "felt horrible about it", but that the largest bankruptcy in history was due to circumstances beyond his control.
Likewise, former AIG chief executives Hank Greenberg, Martin Sullivan and Robert Willumstad deflected blame in oral and written testimony to Congress. Public opinion polls show most people blame CEOs for the crisis.
But there is blame to go around, with Democrats choosing to ignore warnings about the possible implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Republicans supporting less regulation, says Harvard leadership expert Barbara Kellerman, who wrote a 2006 article in the Harvard Business Review titled, When Should a Leader Apologize - and When Not?"
You know what? I am not surprise at this report at all. You see, like one of the famous songs by Elton John: 'Sorry seems to be the hardest word!'.
It is easier to say sorry when you are a normal person. It is easier to say sorry when you have not achieved much in your life and even if you did only for a short period of time.
The people listed in the news report here were ALL accomplished CEOs of the biggest Wall Street iconic firms! Some have been in that exalted position for many decades! Their successes and exploits were reported by the most esteemed and reputable media companies in print, radio, TVs, and even movies!! They are extraordinarily successful people. HOW can it be easy for them to say: Sorry!!
Their mind will be wrapping around: What the heck happened? How could this happened to me?!! It must be some one's else faults. SURELY!!
The lessons for me are:
1. when you are very successful for a long period of time, remind yourself that what you hear is not always the truth. Do not fall in love with yourself. Be on the guard. Hire 'insultants' who will tell you the painful truth that maybe, just maybe, there were something wrong with some of your actions and behaviors. Are you willing to have some 'torn by your side' to keep you honest or you only want 'yes man and woman' around you?;
2. institute a 'what can go wrong with our 3 best ideas' session in your regular review session and demand at least 3-5 divergent views on each. This will require you to be open and honest with yourself and your people. If you kill the 'bearer of bad news', you will hear only what pleases you since you are, after all, the most powerful man in the company! (sadly without any check on your absolute power!!);
3. do keep a balance view of life. Self-discipline about how we exercise our power is absolutely critical. As a powerful leader, your actions and behaviors shape the culture of the organization. You must bear the FULL responsibility IF the culture of the company has gone astray. When people with unhappiness and felt injustice being done and yet kept mum. When people feared telling the unpleasant truth as they may be 'killed', you are RESPONSIBLE for it! When the judgement day come, you have to step forward to accept it. As leader, you have direct power to shape the culture. Be careful with the power you had here!!
Once again. Our discussion turned to the financial crisis and it's aftermath. Sadly, most of the CEOs are still having a relatively good time with their million dollars golden parachutes while the ordinary investors are left holding the cans. Let's see how things play out. Will justice by served equitably?