A few years ago, a close friend and mentor called asking me to participate in a meeting with key sales executives of a company that had filed for bankruptcy, then liquidated. The stated purpose was to help them with their careers going forward. I used it as an opportunity to peer into the end stage failure of a once mighty 150 year old, public company. What we learned was stunning.

Questions & Answers:

 Q: The last couple years of operations, what was going on inside the company to deal with the impending failure?

A: Not very much.

Q: Did the CEO, or other executives hold meetings focused on strategies or actions to stop the bleeding or turn it around?

A: No meetings were held. Ever. Not a single one.

Q: Never. Not a single meeting was held to deal with the death spiral strangling the company.

A: No. Not one.

Q: What did you think about that?

A: We were shocked that no officers made any real attempt to turn the company around. In the end, we lost everything. Retirement, pensions, the whole thing.

Q: Where was the Board of Directors in all this?

A: We never knew. Absent.

Leadership matters. Solving big problems is tough business. Every day we are treated to a panoply of reasons, excuses and rationale for why things don’t work. It’s impossible to miss the stain of incompetence and lack of accountability among our public officials.

When someone says “Hold me accountable,” what does it mean if there are no consequences? Absent pain or pleasure, people are unlikely to change their behavior.

We in the private sector face consequences for our actions. And the people paying the price are the rank and file. The working people striving every day to make ends meet.

The one truth we are reminded of daily? Leadership matters.