An Ear to the Groundswell

Keeping up with the breaking news from Egypt in recent days was a challenge for anyone, including experienced news analysts.  But the most clueless comments of all came from then-President Hosni Mubarak.  Clearly, he just wasn’t listening to “his” people.

Sadly, many leading business executives seem to have similar challenges.  They may be good at listening to their peers, or their advisers or leadership teams, but the voice on the shop floor?  Not so much.  And the impact of that is demonstrated by numerous cautionary tales ending in bankruptcy: poor labor relations at Delta and US Airways, whistle-blowers ignored at Enron and WorldCom, excessive risk-taking at Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.  Not to mention dozens of firms that struggled to profit from ill-conceived mergers with baked-in cultural issues (can you say AOL?).

Perhaps those leaders were so caught up in what “the message” coming from the executive suite ought to be, that they failed to hear the warning sounds outside their windows.  The message from the ground in Tahrir Sq. was “we know what we need, and it isn’t you.”  Leaders who take time to show they are listening before a crisis hits are more likely to remain standing when it has passed.

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