One small item in the recent news about BlackBerry’s struggles to stay afloat caught the attention of quite a few people – the company’s purchase of a commuter jet to replace two older aircraft, even as company employees faced massive layoffs. It reminded us of 2008, when two representatives from the Big Three auto companies flew corporate jets into Washington to ask for a multi-million-dollar bailout. If those high-flying executives were not blushing bright raspberry, they should have been.
Our reaction was roughly akin to what we felt when news came out about the recent Senate fiasco – anger, with just a hint of disgust. Some phenomenally well paid political folks got their knuckles rapped for claiming expenses to which they were not entitled, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars – our dollars. Efforts to smooth the waters failed – the public wanted, and is getting, a full police investigation. The problem is not so much the padded expense claims, but the fact the federal government continues to preach austerity, cuts and wage freezes in the midst of the mess.
There is more to this than simple hypocrisy. We have grown weary of the inflated sense of entitlement that seems to plague top levels of industry, business, and of course politics.
If asked to describe a great leader, various images come to mind – the fearless war hero leading the charge against the enemy, the inspired speaker refusing to cancel a public address even when threatened with violence, the scientist risking reputation and career for an unpopular theory he believes in, the captain of the sinking ship striving to save every passenger, knowing his own life is forfeit if he stays aboard.
It is their willingness to risk more, do more, sacrifice more than the average human, that makes them great.
Gone is the kind of political leader who said, “The buck stops here.” The accepted technique now is to hand it off at warp speed, and if that fails to work, toss a staff member or minor party official under the bus.
Why did BlackBerry shares plummet from the triple digits to single in four short years? No one is standing up to accept blame. The company will be injected with new cash – or not; it will be successfully downsized and strengthened – or not; it could still be broken into pieces and sold off that way – or not. Whatever the outcome of the present situation, the people at the bottom of the pile will be out of work, while the ones at the top head straight for the bank. When any major business gets bought out, the top people know they will have a sizable chunk of cash coming to them, plus lucrative appointments to other boards of directors and more.
All things run their course. The furor that has erupted over the ongoing Senate scandal indicates the winds of change may be blowing some fresh air into our board rooms, including the fanciest, most expensive board room in the country, the Senate. Perhaps replacement of true leadership with an inflated sense of entitlement (and zero sense of responsibility) has run its course.
We can only hope. What we do know is public tolerance for “take the money and run” leadership in both the corporate and political sectors is quickly wearing thin – something those considering running for public office might keep in mind. What we want in our leaders is the courage to make difficult decisions with honesty and transparency, for the general good. Ethics is not an anachronism.