What could they have done? For starters, just one of them could have shown up at one of those closely watched investor conferences and stolen the show by giving a strong speech declaring that things were getting out of hand...
That is from Steve Pearlstein's piece in the Washington Post today about the leadership failures in the current financial crisis. He notes that most of the CEOs involved have either claimed they made no mistakes or that they had no alternative to the path they took.
In my experience, real leadership is about saying "I don't accept that the world has to be like A. I declare that it can be like B, and I am going to take action to create this new reality." It is the opposite of following the herd and making excuses.
Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, is a good example of such a leader. During a period when mail service around the US was highly variable and unpredictable, he declared that it was possible to absolutely, positively deliver something overnight from anywhere to anywhere in the US. People thought he was crazy. And indeed he had to go to extraordinary lengths to make good on his promise in the early days (for example, he authorized low-level managers to charter airplanes if they needed one to get a package to a remote area on time.)
Guess what? Now we take it for granted that we can get a package to or from someone overnight. Our expectations have shifted. That's what leadership is all about.
So I was very happy to see that Pearlstein has also launched a new Leadership Section of WashingtonPost.com with an interview with Fred Smith (see video below). Talk about leadership!