General Motors' Leadership, Culture, Values and the Mess It Made of Them

Tickers in this article: GM

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It didnt take long for the history making celebration over General Motors (GM) first female CEO to end.

Mary Barra's fanfare has turned to warfare. The battle centers on defective switches and a lack of quality that has caused crashes and people's deaths and may cause more. She's fighting consumers, legislators, regulators and her own company's ways.

GM stock is at $37.72, down 7.8% for the year to date.

>>Goldman Women Say They Make Less Than Men Who Frequent Strip Clubs, Call Them 'Bimbos'

Once again the comeuppance of General Motors (and yes, I'm talking about being on the verge of collapse before the largesse of President Obama's administration in the form of a $50 billion bailout in 2009) is a classic. Now GM finds itself in the midst of multi-million vehicle recalls, lawsuits and speculation over its very viability again.

It represents the oft-repeated example of companies at the crossroads of flawed leadership, a toxic culture and ignoring core success values of enduring businesses.

  • Flawed leadership -- The comfort level of imperial leaders and the incestuous practice of GM developing its own leaders resulted in an cycle of sameness in thinking and process. This is the classic curse of success where longstanding icons of commerce believe they're infallible and surround themselves with yes men and resist innovation in development for succession purposes.
  • Toxic Culture -- Big union demands for increased hours, pay, benefits and management kicking the can to maintain irrational goals led to the security, authority and entitlements. Achieving today's deadlines had management and workers focused on daily cycles and time-to-market instead of long term sustainability of quality.
  • Ignoring Key Values: When a company forgets things like integrity, quality, stewardship and accountability, it implodes. When there is a shift from principles to production, quality checks and balances can get in the way or at least be marginalized.

GM is not alone. Every fallen icon has had this same alchemy of destruction. Big companies tend to be their own worst enemies because they often fail to recognize fundamentals of leadership, culture, and values until something goes very wrong.

Will GM survive?