In January, Boeing’s former Chairman, David Calhoun, became CEO after the board fired Dennis Muilenburg. Less than two months later, in a New York Times interview last week, Calhoun blamed Muilenburg for the misfortunes plaguing Boeing:
- Asked why he wouldn’t give up his salary (he gets a $7 million bonus if he can get the 737 MAX back into the sky) in light of the 737 MAX-related woes, Calhoun declared, “… ’cause I’m not sure I would have done it [taken the job without a salary].”
- On Boeing’s systemic culture problem (a steady trickle of revelations has exposed software problems and corners being cut in the engineering and certification processes,) Calhoun characterized the contents of the leaked emails as unacceptable but also downplayed the issue: “… I see a couple of people who wrote horrible emails.”
- Calhoun has been on Boeing’s board since 2009. While the MAX crisis snowballed and Boeing’s crisis management went from bad to worse, Calhoun took over as the board’s chairman. In that capacity, he fully endorsed Muilenburg saying, “from the vantage point of our board, he has done everything right,” “he didn’t create this problem,” and “shouldn’t resign.” Now, in the last week’s interview, Calhoun had a different take: “Boards are invested in their CEOs until they’re not. We had a backup plan. I am the backup plan.”
- Acknowledging that Muilenburg boosted production rates before the supply chain was ready, Calhoun declared, “I’ll never be able to judge what motivated Dennis, whether it was a stock price that was going to continue to go up and up, or whether it was just beating the other guy to the next rate increase. If anybody ran over the rainbow for the pot of gold on stock, it would have been him.”
Calhoun and the rest of Boeing’s board of directors were part of the context right from the outset. The roots of Boeing’s current crisis embody decisions made by the company’s leadership over a decade and fully sanctioned by the board. The board is wholly accountable for everything that happens under its authority.
Idea for Impact: Blame is an Accountability Killer
This is not responsible leadership. A true leader doesn’t pass the blame for failure but graciously accepts responsibility for the problems he inherited. Even though Boeing’s lapses may not be traceable directly to him in his capacity as a member of the company’s board, Calhoun should have acknowledged his—and the rest of the board’s—failing to keep an eye on Boeing’s leadership team over the last decade.
Leading with integrity means taking personal responsibility. It’s tempting for people to take flight and avoid the personal consequences of what happened, to reject personal responsibility, and to pass the blame on to other people.
Calhoun could have acknowledged that the board’s actions had a role in the situation. By facing up to these criticisms and admitting that Boeing and it’s board could have done things better, Calhoun could have encouraged others at Boeing to do the same, especially considering that he must overhaul the company culture from the top down.