Saturday, August 19, 2006

Can Respect Survive the Bad Times?

In her 8/18/06 article in, Joanne Laurier describes an extreme case of lack of respect between leaders and followers: Northwest Airlines to laid-off workers: rummage through the trash. Workers who have already made substantial concessions and are now to be laid off as their jobs are outsourced, received a company published book, "Preparing for Financial Setback," which contained this and other unusual recommendations. Meanwhile it is reported that executive earnings exceed $20m and prior to Northwest's bankruptcy filing the chairman dumped stock worth $26m.

The Vision of Leadership (now Leadership for Collaboration and Innovation) shows how, in the name of effective organization and collaboration, respecting binds together leader and follower. The leader is usually the person or people who take an initiative. Over the years Northwestern employees have lead by striking (disrupting organization and collaboration) in the hope of retaining benefits. In the present case management leads by publishing "Preparing for Financial Setback" against a background of pocket lining by executives. At this point any residue of mutual respect is likely to have evaporated, creating yet more obstacles to organization and collaboration.

Before airline industry deregulation Northwestern had a very successful business model and since then the company has been adapting to the new circumstances. The news item highlights how respect between leaders and followers is probably more important and harder to sustain in the bad times than in the good. In the good times organization and collaboration appear to be effective. In the bad times, with the stress of change, assumptions are challenged and small, misplaced actions can be potently negative. Without basic respect, an enterprise's survival through bad times appears less probable and if that culture continues, longer term success appears improbable.

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