Measure of a Leader

Let’s see now – which is worse? A corporate leader who is responsible for having a consensual relationship with an employee? Or a corporate leader who is responsible for ignoring warnings his product is dangerously unsafe?

On the surface it would seem the former. For after McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook admitted he had a relationship with an employee, he immediately said he had made a “mistake.” He then went on to explain that “given the values of the company,” he agreed with the board it was “time for [him] to move on.”  

Conversely, while Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg claimed he considered stepping down in the aftermath of two fatal crashes of Boeing’s 737 Max jets, he remains in place. To be sure, the board did strip him of his responsibilities as chairman. But chief executive officer? Last I looked, five minutes ago, Muilenburg continues to hold the title.

Back to my original question: Which of the two leaders is worse? Let’s assume that Easterbrook’s relationship with his employee was – heaven forefend – sexual. What we have here then is two consenting adults of admittedly unequal status involved in an affair.

What we have, however, at Boeing is this. Two separate 737 Max crashes – one in Indonesia in October of last year, one in Ethiopia in March of this year – in which 346 people died.  Died.

It’s not as if Muilenburg had no idea Boeing had a problem. He did. He knew. He knew because (at the least) he was copied on an e-mail sent four months before the crash in Indonesia in which a Boeing production manager warned in no uncertain terms that the plane was being rushed into production. He went so far as to write, “For the first time in my life, I’m sorry to say that I’m hesitant about putting my family on a Boeing plane.” In other words, a note on which Muilenburg was copied – and to which he admitted he replied – was an exceedingly stark caution about the risk associated with this particular plane. But, not only was it not grounded before the first crash, it was not even grounded after. Only after the second deadly accident was the 737 Max finally pulled from Boeing’s rotation.   

Which then is worse? Sex or death?

Must be the former. For Easterbrook is gone while Muilenburg is not.    

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