Just how disconnected some people are from the the notion of true leadership is made plain by the fact that the government has seen the need to put limits on travel expenses for executives from companies receiving bailout money. Every effective lean leader I have ever encountered has a sense of personal humility that precludes them from indulging in this sort of nonsense. They do not seem to share this need to demonstrate their power through the pomp and circumstance that requires government intervention.
It is pretty obvious that justifying layoffs and outsourcing due to the primacy of shareholder value is nonsense. Shareholder value isn't enhanced by having meetings at resorts and country clubs, rather than in your own conference room. The shareholder gets the same value whether the employee stayed in a Comfort Inn or at the Plaza – in fact they get more value if everyone was at the Comfort Inn because of the money saved. Ridiculous expense accounts aren't about shareholder value – they are about selfishness and egos. Most of all, they demonstrate an outrageous lack of respect for the employees in the trenches.
Beyond the money, the people who indulge in this nonsense cannot imagine how little credibility they have within their companies. The path to maximum shareholder value is a lean culture, rooted in respect for everyone in the organization – a genuine belief that everyone's work has value and that everyone's input is necessary for success … you know – the old 'There is no I in TEAM'. So when the senior guys charter a limo to take them to the suburban airport to catch the corporate jet because their time is so precious, while middle management and the technical folks take the shuttle to the big airport to get there two hours early and fly coach, I guess that says their time is not quite as valuable.
If these people are fooling anyone with such nonsense, it is only themselves. Between laptops, cell phones and Blackberries, they can keep busy while they wait at the gate at the airport if they have so much to do. They might be surprised to learn that their employees, whose time they seem to believe is not nearly as important as theirs, are doing just that.
A guy who wears an expensive suit to work, has a company paid Persian rug in his office, and a company paid Lexus parked in the spot closest to the door cannot lead a lean transformation. In fact, that guy cannot lead anything. None of that nonsense enables him to do a better job – it just makes him look good in his own insecure eyes. Everything about him screams to the employees "I am better than you". And that is a failure of leadership in its most fundamental form. The image of the auto execs in their tailored suits heading off in their corporate jets to Washington to plead for their bailout last year is real live, tangible proof of the adage that you can put a silk suit on a monkey – in fact, you can put three monkeys in silk suits and Gulf Streams – but they are still monkeys.
If everyone in the organization carries equal value – and they do in terms of all having to contribute to make the whole organization succeed, there should be one policy – you stay at the same hotels whether you are an entry level engineer or the CEO. Everyone gets liquor and golf, or no one does; everyone flies on a private jet, or the company doesn't need one. There is no room for royalty or a privileged class in the pursuit of excellence.