Managers role, leaders and VW

logoOne of the things that make me think about the Volkswagen Diesel gate is the role of the management inside a company. All Diesel gate is a demonstration of how dangerous is to have bad managers in a company. It is supposed that managers have the responsibility to take decision and drive the company to reach the goals, this is the justification for their paycheck at the end a manager have to

  • take decisions
  • take responsibility

but is this actually the truth?

My experience as trainer, consultant and coach alas told me that the truth is quite different, and we can find clear example everywhere. Every time something goes wrong there are always good excuses (laws, government, economical outlook, competition, price …) great justifications (I didn’t know, I can’t look at every detail, my people should have dealt with this…) but seldom sincere apologies and acts of responsibility.

612ce929df63ee64b6ecf12219fea743Take as an example the Volkswagen affair. Volkswagen CEO resign, with a millionaire paycheck, after making such a mess of the company. But the rest of the managers? In a hierarchical structure there should be a mix of direct responsibility and delegation, 11 million cars not compliant can’t be done without anyone knows.

Someone has approved some bad choices, and someone has to be responsible. The CEO and at least all the management chain that deal with the production share a big part of this responsibility, and so they should pay part of the costs. And believe me the magnitude of the damage is big, and it will be clear in the next years. Once you lose the trust of the people you loose one of the most important asset of your company, something that a lot of managers are not able to understand. Alas it is easier to talk how to rise RoI through savings than how to keep value trough brand, company and personal ethics.

I am sorry but big paycheck means also you have to pay the price for your mistakes. Alas this is not what happen in today big infrastructures. Higher level often means the less responsibility for the bad performances. The responsibility is always pushed down till the lower levels.


This is something that is quite clear to anyone worked in a Big Company. The problems are always someone else ones,  and when managers take “difficult” and “painful” decision, as large layoffs, they, basically, turn the problem and the cost of their bad choices to the lower level,  but you know:

someone has to pay.

When I train managers I usually try to explain them that their role is not to give orders but take responsibility.

Unlike personal contributors a manager inside the company has responsibility towards the lower levels and towards the upper level, being a manager means to manage resources in the proper way to meet the result the company need.


There are a lot of good reasons to want a manager do this.

If a manager is just a mere executor is actually  useless for the company: a paycheck without a brain is not something I would bet my money on. So what a manager should do?

Towards lower level a good manager should try to remove obstacle in order to allow them to reach their goals, and not expecting that the obstacle being remove by hisher people. This should be reflected in hisher KPI. If the team does not reach the goal all the company suffer, and a manager is the primary responsible.


I always criticize managers that told me that they want solutions and not problems from their team. If they are not a part, proactive part, of the solution they are, basically, part of the problem.

Being part of the solution does not means to tell someone “do it” but means to analyze the steps required to solve the problem and use all the instrument available to solve it. This could means asking for new resources, change plans and escalate to upper levels the problem if resources are not available.

If the management structure is flat this means a manager couldshould share the resource request directly with hisher peer, in a more hierarchical structure the manager have to ask resource to hisher upper level who will find the correct way.

Of course all those activities should be done inside a framework of policies and indications that allow the correct monitoring and managing of the resources.

If in Volkswagen there was anyone who approved the actions that caused this mess then, heshe is the responsible. But also the rest of the management chain share the responsibility, since they didn’t put in place the correct procedures to avoid this.

Mistake or not this is anyway a management problem, and management should take the responsibility for that, not only the CEO.

All this has nothing to do with leadership but is related to management. there is always a big confusion between the two roles: a leader and a manager are not the same thing,

of course a good manager should have also some leadership skills, but mainly it has to be a good manager.

of course a leader should have also some management skills, but a leader can be just a personal contributor inside a company, not necessarily a manager.

Alas there are roles that need both, a CEO is one of them. As CEO of a company you should prove great management skills as well as leadership ones, same request for the board level.

But where a leader and a manager differs?

Well a leader should be able to inspire people, track new paths, being an example of ethics. A leader should be able to do that “step more” that managers can avoid to do.

But a leader can’t be necessarily a manager or highly successful entrepreneur, we should be wise enough to know the difference.

If you think to the nowadays industrial world there are some “leaders” that are able to inspire: people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos to name a few well-known names.

Are they perfect? I don’t think so

Are they leader? yes they are


Why they are leader? The simplest answer is because people recognize their leadership and … have you noticed that all those examples “create” their company and brand?

There are also other leaders, may be not under the media’s spotlights, but those should be known mostly by everyone (well may be my mum would have some problem).

Then there are great managers and great entrepreneurs that are important as well, but are a completely different thing.

There are also a lot of companies that lives (or sometimes survive) without leadership but just with good management (sorry for the great management, leadership is needed).

Just to be clear there are also companies that lives also without leadership and good management may be because of the past glories but sooner or later have to pay the price (and I have some example in mind now).

What kind of company was VW in your mind?

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Managers role, leaders and VW was originally published on The Puchi Herald Magazine


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