It’s probably not a huge surprise, but Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenburg has lost his job.
As CNN and other outlets have reported he was removed from his job slightly before Christmas.
The result is not surprising given what has happened with a reported 346 lives lost and a ton of litigation, and potential litigation, happening around the 737 Max airplane design and control systems.
And we could end the lessons there and move on. Or we can dig deeper to find out what is really happening below the surface and learn lessons for our businesses.
Because the lessons coming from Boeing’s headquarters in Chicago are just as applicable to the businesses operating in Orlando, Daytona Beach or New York. Or Dallas, Texas or DeLand, Florida where I keep my offices. Or wherever you might be reading – in the United States, in Amsterdam, in Europe or anywhere else for that matter.
There are real business lessons. Let’s dig into 5 things Boeing’s recent move shows us.
Lesson 1: We Are Responsible For The Organizations We Inherit
So, for Muilenburg, the airplane that would determine the fate of his career was already mostly “ready” when he showed up.
And many of us will find this within the businesses we own or lead. A lot of things have been done before the day we show up. Customers exist, products have been developed or other employees have completed projects, partially or fully.
Yet if we are the owners and/or leaders we end up being responsible. Muilenburg ended up losing his job, and changing his career, based on something that was largely done when he took over as CEO.
Lesson 2: The Answer To Problems Isn’t Hiding
The deployment of the MAX 737 was tragic. Despite internal memos and documents reflecting potential problems the airplane was deployed and 2 commercial airlines had accidents with passengers on board.
I am sure the pressure at Boeing was high. This large-scale and high-dollar project was sorely needed to boost corporate profits and meet Wall-Street expectations.
Merely hitting the pause button and delaying the shipment of the planes may have caused huge impacts to Boeing’s bottom line and future. Having worked with countless large companies it is clear how many employees could be tempted to “keep their head down” and just ignore these issues.
But the problem with hiding problems is when they do surface the issues become huge.
Busy leaders that hide from problems often cause their reports to ignore issues or hide them. And when they do these types of issues: accidents, embezzlement, sexual harassment or legal violations often end up being hidden for extended periods of time.
We, as leaders, need to create cultures of openness and reporting so these issues never happen.
Lesson 3: Sometimes The Answer Is To Take A Loss
Just think how many lives – and dollars – could have been saved if Boeing had taken a chill pill, acknowledged the programming issues, and taken a loss.
I know that no CEO, business owner or leader wants to tell the (other) owners that their business is going to take a loss. Owners want good news.
But in business sometimes the news is bad.
And what seems to have come from Boeing is a desire to avoid short-term impacts to profit. But in the end the situation ended up costing even more losses than if their hard been a measured response.
And in our businesses, sometimes the answer is to slow down, take the hit, and move on with a more rational answer.
Lesson 4: The Coverup Can Be Worse Than The Crime
As we have seen in other historic events, when things get bad they tend to get really bad. We are all human and make mistakes.
I know there are many good intentioned humans at Boeing. Folks that wanted to help their company make a profit, raise their kids the right way, and live a good life.
And when you are dealing with all of the pressures of life that last thing you normally want to do is add more problems. There’s great wisdom in simplifying and avoiding issues.
But there is a difference between trying to avoid issues and ignoring them. The news reports seem to indicate that issues were ignored – or covered up – rather than avoided by care.
And the difference in perception, after the fact, is huge. People now see the internal documents as being a bigger issue than the actual accident.
Lesson 5: Leadership Is Hard
All of this shows us just how hard leadership is.
Leadership usually seems fun because of the increased control and potentially higher rewards. Leaders typically get to make decisions, have some more control over their time and future, and can, often, enjoy higher pay and profit.
But leadership does come with it’s costs. Leaders often get things they don’t want with the job. Issues to deal with. And often issues at bad times.
The truth is leadership is hard. We have to remind ourselves of that and plan the right way. We have to be ready to take that responsibility when necessary.
Take A Breath
What happened at Boeing is terrible and I am saddened for the loss of human life. This is an extreme case where leadership can make life and death decisions for others.
Let that soak in.
On the flip side, however, proper and enlightened leadership can improve lives, help others, and, in some cases, save lives.
I just wonder if Boeing had paused and thought of the lives, and not the profits, if we’d even have this case study to reflect upon.
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DISCLAIMER: This article talks about potential legal liability. I am a lawyer licensed in multiple US jurisdictions, but I am not your lawyer unless we have signed an engagement agreement. Please view this material as educational and consult counsel you have retained for advice on your specific facts and circumstances. Do not rely on these general statements as legal advice.
By: The Our Shawn McBride, is the business nerd and long-time business attorney that focuses on changes of ownership in businesses. He works with business owners that know their business is about more than themselves to get ready for their future within the future of business through keynotes, training and personalized solutions. In furtherance of this he hosts The Future Done Right(TM) Show where he collects, digests and gives lessons and insights on The Future of Business. If you want regular content on the future of business subscribe to get new blog posts from us here.
The Our Shawn is based in DeLand, Florida (between Orlando, Florida and Daytona Beach, Florida) and Dallas, Texas where he keeps offices. You can also find Shawn on webinars or traveling nationally or internationally for speaking engagements.
Check me out at: www.planningdoneright.com
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