We have written a lot here about Culture and Leadership as the over riding and most defining aspects of most organizations. Now I am reminded of this again as the news media covers in great detail General Motors’s recall issues.

When the new GM CEO, Mary Barra,  discusses what apparently happened in countless internal GM meetings, she refers to the GM Nod. This is described as when everyone seems to nod their head as if they agree Something must be done, but then Nothing happens. She also is quoted discussing a similar issue, that GM, at times, seemed to have a “troubling disavowal of responsibility” . To help resolve all of this, she vows to upend the corporate culture responsible for this “pattern of incompetence”. To this I add, Good Luck!

General Motors has been around a very long time. For much of that time they were one of the greatest corporations in the world and, along with Ford and Chrysler, a wonderful training ground for decades of leaders inside and outside the auto industry. During that time, the Culture of GM was formed, in part by the Leaders. They were the best and they believed their way was The Only Way. During the last twenty years with the invasion, as they called it,  of “foreign cars” from Europe and Asia, things have not been as rosy. But, trust me on this one, the Culture of GM stayed essentially the same. If you read reports of the GM bankruptcy, the outside experts that the government sent in to “help” GM were amazed on how insular and isolated the GM leaders were. So a whole generation of them were retired or fired. But the Culture stayed on.

But the issue is not just with GM. As I consult or mentor young people, I hear similar stories. Two hour meetings of 20 people from four or five different operating and staff  groups that accomplish nothing except to hear people talk. Sometimes at the end of one of these meetings, some “Leader” will announce that is was great that we talked about this! Today, especially in large organizations, no one wants to show initiative or take responsibility for anything because they are Afraid. And as you have learned by now, fear should have no space in business or in a zoo!

The answer to this at GM and elsewhere is not first in trying to change the culture. It should be the leaders, who act, encourage and reward others to take personal initiatives. And to assume responsibility. I was taught, years ago, that if I was in any way responsible for something, I had to assume that responsibility and not try to Nod it off to others.

The last Chapter of my book, The Business Zoo, covers Culture and Leadership and how they are the flip side of each other and how either can make or destroy an organization. Good luck to GM CEO, Mary Barra. A lot of leaders try to change culture but often the culture wins!