Bad Leadership and Followership – at Volkswagen and Wells Fargo

If anyone out there resembles me – has as much of an interest in bad leadership and followership as in good leadership and followership – check out these two corporate cases. First the emissions scandal at Volkswagen – a story that broke a year ago. Second the sales scandal at Wells Fargo – a story that broke in recent weeks. Both will go down in the annals of the history of business as leadership and followership gone miserably wrong. Here five key questions that pertain to both companies:

  • Where on the organizational hierarchy does responsibility lie?
  • Who should still be punished – Wells Fargo has already fired more than 5,000 employees; but no one at or near the top has paid any sort of price for tolerating or even encouraging fraudulent practices – and for what exactly?
  • How did the wrongdoing start – and morph over time into a toxin that poisoned the entire corporate culture?
  • What does this tell us about the gaping hole between ethics in theory and ethics in practice?
  • What can be learned from these cases – and what can be taught based on these cases?

Wells Fargo CEO, John Stumpf will be testifying this week before a fired up Senate Banking Committee. Good. Moreover, the bank has already agreed to pay a fine, and enter into an enforcement agreement with regulators. Also good. Volkswagen will pay much more dearly. Costs to the company for cheating on emissions tests are already calculated at over $20 billion. Even better.

Still, this sort of public purification will teach us nothing. For us in any enduring way to extract benefits from the costs will require two things. First, some leaders, some individual high flyers, will have to pay a visible, palpable, price. Second, we must get to the dark, dirty bottom of what happened as if our lives depended on it. Which, of course, they do.



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