Never known for holding his tongue, the former vice chairman of General Motors took part in a Q & A with the Washington Post earlier this week. And he offered up his usual, unvarnished take on subjects ranging from Mary Barra’s performance as GM’s chief executive so far (“too early to tell,” but “the early signs are outstanding”) to the increasingly guarded stance taken by executives when addressing the public (“nobody is speaking clearly anymore”).
Lutz also spoke at length about what makes for a great leader. While he praised the “quiet, somewhat low-key, persuasive and very effective” style that Barra has displayed at the helm of GM, Lutz seemed to suggest the leadership model prevailing at many organizations in 2014 is, well, a little soft.
When asked to name the best leader he’s ever worked for, Lutz went all the way back to his high school days in Switzerland, calling teacher—and future member of the Swiss National Council—Georges-Andre Chevallaz “an extremely effective individual” who could “convince intellectually, and … had the ability to motivate positively. You never wanted to let him down.”
The corporate community could use a few more like Georges-Andre Chevallaz, according to Lutz.
Today’s leaders “follow a politically correct line and listen to all the 1980s Total Quality Management consultants who say you should always respect everyone, that there’s no such thing as a bad idea,” he told the Post. “Of course we all know that’s hogwash. Good leaders have to be able to criticize constructively. We just have too little of that in American business now. Everybody is way too nice to everybody.”
A dearth of constructive criticism aside, Lutz sees something else lacking in the workplace: Fear.
“I can’t tell you how essential that is: a fear of consequences, of messing up, of letting the team down, of doing something unauthorized,” said Lutz. “That fear has to be there; otherwise the place is out of control. All of the consultants who say you’ve got to take fear away in a corporation don’t know what they’re talking about.”
While he may espouse some old-school ideals when it comes to leadership style, Lutz also warned that too much of the same old, same old can actually damage an organization’s culture; a lesson he says he learned decades ago.
Looking back at his stint as head of product development with Chrysler in the 1970s and ’80s—when the company was integrating an influx of talent from Ford and GM to go along with “the old Chrysler guys”—the culture at Chrysler “was a ragtag bunch of misfits,” he said. “At Chrysler, everybody was from somewhere else. It made for a very interesting environment, because there was no dominant culture. What you rarely heard in meetings was, ‘You can’t do that, because we’ve always done it this way.’
“It was messy,” he continued. “But it was very effective and everybody had a lot of fun. The nice thing about an enduring culture is that you have stability. But stability in a rapidly changing environment can be a very bad thing.”Twitter It!