Corporate Leadership Awards: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Just as frightening as the plummeting value of our 401(K)s, housing values and overall confidence, is the absolute lack of leadership from our current CEO ranks. I’d give our “C” level executives a “D-” for how they are responding to the current crisis.

So in our first ever “Workplace911: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Leadership awards,” we’re going to take a hard look at the deteriorating state of leadership. Hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger. Even if you don’t have almost three million frequent flyer miles, like yours truly, it’s hard to get the image of that US Airways plane going on its Hudson River cruise out of your mind. Sully did a remarkable job landing that plane. Absolutely remarkable.

But is he a hero? According to a source no less august than Sully himself, he isn’t. He said he and his crew “were simply doing the jobs we were trained to do.”

Yet when you enter “US Air hero” into Google you get 14,380 links. It is my premise that the state of leadership has declined so far, that today just doing your job looks heroic.

To test this theory, I talked to a number of pilots since the splash landing. Each one said that just before they take off, they always think about where they’d land if they had to ditch the flight. In fact, one said that this is a regular challenge that they must face during their sessions on the flight simulator.

In fact, if you look at everything that Sully did on that day—coming up with a plan almost instantaneously, making a water landing so smooth that it looked like it was on pavement, walking through the sinking-into-the-Hudson cabin, twice—it’s all standard operating procedure for pilots.

Please don’t get me wrong, if I could hire him as my personal pilot from now on, I would. But there is a big difference between doing your job really, really, really well and being a hero. Just as there is, unfortunately, a big difference between most of our current crop of leaders and even just doing their job well. Let me explain…

Also making headlines recently was John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch. For those of you who are regular workplace911 readers, you know that we nominated him for man of the year in 2008, for his lobbying of the Merrill Lynch board for a $10 million dollar bonus for selling the formerly storied brokerage house to Bank of America.

For those of you who are not regular readers, calling Mr. Thain the man of the year was an ironic selection intended to illustrate the greed and avarice that led so much of our economy to the edge of absolute collapse. Recently it was revealed that Mr. Thain’s greed was on an order of magnitude as much as four times what I reported at the end of last year.

Half empty? Those were the good old days. Today the leadership glass is a Dixie cup and we’re lucky if it contains a nary a drop of water.

But apparently in what passes for leadership today, when the going gets tough, today’s CEOs go shopping. Shopping?

It was reported that amidst the carnage at Merrill, Thain remodeled his office to the tune of $1,220,000. Laying people off at the same time that you are buying a $1,405 waste basket! As we used to say in Jersey, if brains were dynamite, he wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose. But at least Thain would have a really nice place to toss the tissue.

As remarkable as his lapses are, Thain merely scores a “bad” on our leadership rankings. To really plumb the depths of what passes for leadership today let me present Carol Bartz, the recently selected CEO of Yahoo.

In a widely reported story, Ms. Bartz recently met with a group of investors, industry analysts and journalists. She took three questions. Calling the last one “nonsense” she ended the dialogue. Three questions!

Ms. Bartz has long been known as being a hard-charging executive. But she forgets one simple fact. Although you may sit in the big chair, Carol, you don’t own the chair. Your investors do. And they deserve more than three answers when they’re paying you $19,000,000 annually.

Okay, I’ve been called “Dilbert with a solution,” so I have the reputation for bringing an edge to my writing. But I have to be honest with you, what has been going on recently in the executive suites has broken my heart. So many people are suffering and people like Ms. Bartz seem to be living in a parallel universe. A perk-encrusted universe.

Is it too much to ask for a leader to lead? To cut his or her own salary and bennies before tossing employees under the bus? To, dare I say, be humble in the face of their own failures?

I believe in pay for performance. I’d just like to see someone among our current crop of “leaders,” show that the performance escalator goes down as well as up.

About the Author: Bob Rosner
is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist and contributor to On The Money. He has been called “Dilbert with a solution.” Check out the free resources available at You can contact Bob via

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa se yon 3L nan Syracuse University College of Law. Li gradye nan Eta Penn ak yon diplòm nan jounalis. Avèk rechèch legal li ak ekri pou San Patipri Travay, li fè efò yo ekipe moun ki gen enfòmasyon yo bezwen yo dwe pwòp defansè yo pi byen.