What VW can learn from Gen. Stanley McChrystal about imperfect leaders — Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Fortune

The title of Chief Executive Officer commonly conjures up images of a sharply dressed, smooth-talking individual who paints an inspiring, mesmerizing picture of their company in images and words. But it is underneath this veiled exterior that an organization’s real story lives.

When the Volkswagen scandal broke, my first thought went to the leaders of the company. Of course, there is the obvious question: Did former CEO Martin Winterkorn and Volkswagen America CEO Michael Horn know about the cheating (both have denied this)? But for me, a leadership scholar, the fiasco raises much more interesting questions about Winterkorn and Horn’s leadership styles: Did the CEO image or illusion they projected blind them from the realities of their own business? Did they perpetuate a culture where employees were fearful of sharing problems with those at the top? Though we may never know how much knowledge these leaders had prior to the public exposé, it is a compelling case of what can happen when leaders become too focused on an image of perfection. Rather than trying to conform to a pre-cast mold, I believe leaders should abandon their bogus two-dimensional views of leadership.

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VW needs massive marketing campaign to regain consumer trust – and survive — Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Neal Hartman

From The Conversation

Over the years, we’ve seen quite a few scandals in the automotive industry. However, the recent one at Volkswagen sets the bar at a whole new level. This isn’t your garden variety crisis involving a mechanical or safety issue.

While many of those (think Toyota and accelerator pedals) have been huge, the VW scandal involves years of deception to the public, and there are currently more questions than answers. It’s not unreasonable to ask if VW can survive this. In the weeks and months ahead, it faces a raft of questions that will greatly influence its fate.

Public trust

The company has recalled 11 million diesel cars worldwide, but what is the actual solution? The company will remove the software that cheated on emissions tests, but can it make the cars perform as promised during actual driving conditions? If not, how will it adjust its marketing message about those cars? As for the environment, what will it do about the revelation that those cars produced as much as 40 times the allowed amount of nitrogen oxide, a pollutant linked to asthma and other respiratory problems?

Other companies will have to address questions related to this crisis too. For example, automotive manufacturers of diesel cars face the prospect of random emissions audits to ensure they don’t have similarly deceptive software installed. Those companies are surely wondering if the public mistrust of VW is contagious and will spread to all diesel cars. If so, then the diesel industry could also experience fallout.

Perhaps the biggest question – and one that must be addressed head-on for the sake of long-term survival – is whether VW will be able to rebuild public trust. After all, the deception at VW apparently went on for six years. That is remarkable!

Everyone is now asking what happened. How could this level of deception have existed for so long, much less at a German company known for its attention to detail, skilled engineering and commitment to the environment?

Read the full post at The Conversation.

Neal Hartman is a Senior Lecturer in Managerial Communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management.