An Epic Failure of Leadership

We have been presented with two options to choose from. Either the executive team at Wells Fargo is as corrupt as an executive team can be or they are the dumbest group of people ever to run any organization. 

5300 Wells Fargo employees were terminated last week for creating millions of fraudulent accounts to meet what has been described as nearly unbearable pressure and demands to add new customer accounts. Progress at some branches was reviewed as many as 4 times a day. The pressure was relentless. 

Nothing, not morales, not ethics, not even those little things called laws could slow down the relentless push to meet the Wells Fargo corporate initiative known as “Gr-eight Initiative.” Wells Fargo has a goal that every customer should have eight separate accounts with the bank.

Apparently goals are more important than anything at Wells Fargo. In order to meet the goals of the initiative employees opened new accounts for current customers without the customer’s approval or knowledge. This required forging signatures, creating fake email accounts, and moving customer’s money between these accounts without their knowledge, sometimes causing a customer’s real account to go into the red.

Here’s the most amazing part of all this to me; not one senior level manager or executive had a clue any of this was happening for the last 5 years. Of the 5300 employees terminated ALL were front line employees. Not a single manager had even a microcosm of responsibility for any of this. 

That couldn’t be harder to believe if Hillary Clinton said it.

There is clearly a culture at Wells Fargo that says anything goes. The culture doesn’t even pretend to care about ethics. Apparently the culture not only condones the breaking of laws, it encourages it. 

No matter what else may or may not be true about the goings on at Wells Fargo this much is certain: an organization’s culture comes from the top. 

What happened over the last five years at Wells Fargo is bad, what’s happening today is even worse. If nothing changes with the management at that bank then nothing changes at that bank. 

Is there even one responsible person in a position of authority at that organization? Is there even one person in a leadership position at Wells Fargo with enough courage to say “it’s on me”?

Wells Fargo paid a fine “for the actions of their employees.” What about the actions, or at the very least, the inaction of their leaders? There has been an epic failure of leadership at that bank. 5300 employees didn’t undertake that level of deceit all on their own, it’s time for the people who drove that behavior to step up.

Our lesson here is twofold: when integrity goes out the window everything else is welcome in and absent integrity from those in top leadership positions there is no motivation for anyone else to lead either.


9 thoughts on “An Epic Failure of Leadership

  1. Great article looking at leadership failure in today’s world. More of this sort of analysis is needed to highlight leadership success and failureand call these players into account.

  2. These are excellent questions regarding leadership (or lack of it in this case). An important factor to consider in this story is the system capitalism as it is currently expressed in to world. The constant growth paradigm is unsustainable and it’s failing. Over 5,000 human beings at Wells were going along to get along and making the best of the choices available to them in the constant growth paradigm. We’ll need many more incidents like this before we humans wake up and realize that the system we created is running us, not the other way round. As Doug Rushkoff says “we have to stop optimizing human lives for economic growth and start optimizing the economy for human prosperity”

  3. Someone in customer service management once told me that when a line employee (or employees) conducts themselves inappropriately in customer relationships it is actually a systemic failure, not an employee failure.

    When an organization like Wells Fargo creates a game plan that is ripe for encouraging deceit, that is a systemic breakdown. Mitigation shouldn’t be just firing the line workers, or stop at the level of Community Banking VP. The fact that this individual will retire with a mega-million package shows the capacity of the systemic failure.

  4. This strikes the heart of Ralph Mahony’s Words: “People don’t do what you expect. They do what you inspect.”
    The management here expected the employess to carry out its policy, but they failed to inspect them to see how they were doing it. Hence the employees did it their own ways.
    Lesson learnt.
    Osa Osaziwa

Leave a Reply