Last Saturday, the conversation in the car turned to the woes at General Motors, which is in hot water for some design problems that may have caused some deaths. Since that conversation, I have been think about GM and its relationship to United Airlines, Volkswagen, Miss America, Microsoft, Spotify, and Apple.
What do they have in common? All of these companies have CEOs who recently apologized for a faulty product, a failed policy, or something they said.
This trend of CEO apologies, I believe, was started by CM CEO Mary Barra who testified before Congress in March, 2014, and said, “Today’s GM will do the right thing. That begins with my sincere apologies to everyone who has been affected by this recall, especially the families and friends (of those) who lost their lives or were injured. I am deeply sorry.”
That, readers, is leadership. Barra owned 100% of the carmaker’s troubles – even though it happened before she took over – and issued a clear apology without the usual euphemisms such as “Mistakes were made,” “There were errors in judgment,” and the other responsibility-evading phrases we usually hear. Barra used the word “sorry.”
Two days ago, the VW CEO did the same thing. He apologized and used the word “sorry.”
United Airlines ex-CEO Jeff Smisek took the trend one step further. When it was discovered that they had created a flight just for the convenience of the former head of the chairman of the Port Authority of New Jersey, he resigned. Quit. Outta there.
I do believe that GM started this trend last year. Unfortunately, these are all private sector examples that are unlikely to take root in public bureaucracies because apologizing is not in their DNA. The only time you read about the head of a public bureaucracy resigning before his or her time is when they are caught red-handed in a no-mistake-about-it scandal. And even those are rare because the top people usually insulate themselves and blame lower level people for whatever went wrong.
After all the build-up here about Newport-Mesa’s unique Common Core curriculum and the district’s extensive training and consultations, the Costa Mesa scores proved to be awful. (You can read a recap of the district’s Common Core preparations in Patrice Apodaca’s Daily Pilot column from a year ago by clicking HERE.)
But instead of a sincere apology in which plans are announced to improve the scores, or even plans of a plan are announced, we get board president Martha Fluor blaming the debacle on the english learner kids in the district.
The residents of Costa Mesa’s Westside, and taxpayers throughout Newport-Mesa are owed an apology for the utter failure of Common Core in Costa Mesa.
Taxpayers are long overdue for true leadership in the district – someone who understands that saying “I’m sorry” goes a long way toward deflecting criticism, and defusing volatile situations. Apologizing sets the tone for everyone else who works there, too. Instead of seeing leadership that does the bob and weave every time there is a problem, they see leaders who take responsibility. In the private sector, that approach is contagious, as we are now witnessing.
But there has been no apology for Costa Mesa’s bad Common Core performance and there has been no apology for the Great Flood of 2015 that put 50 classrooms out of commission.
Until some on the board or in the bureaucracy takes ownership of these and other challenges, they will lack the credibility they need with the rank and file to make real progress on any issue.
And, once again, kids lose.