A few days ago, Geisha Williams, CEO of California’s largest utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), stepped down amid the political and financial fallout related to recent California wildfires.
Apparently, investigators found PG&E’s equipment responsible in at least 17 major California wildfires in 2017. State regulators and lawmakers have questioned the safety of the company’s electric distribution system.
In this Wall Street Journal article, I read:
Michael Wara, head of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University’s Woods Institute, said the decision to appoint a new chief executive is a step PG&E needed to take to begin re-establishing trust with its regulators and the state.
“That is not to say that Geisha Williams is to blame, but the reality is she has been the person in charge during this time and made executive decisions regarding how to manage this risk,” he said. “She is accountable.”
As you know, CEOs have massive responsibilities and are accountable for everything that happens in their companies. That’s true even when they don’t have full control over everything that goes on.
When equipment causes a fire, can you really blame the leader? When an employee says something that puts your company or brand in a negative spotlight, can you blame the leader for that?
Yes, that’s how it works. The higher up in the organization, the greater the accountability. Unfortunately, it means other senior leaders are also leaving PG&E.
Assess the breadth of your own accountability, then determine if you and your team are positioned to properly handle everything that might come your way. I call this the practice of mindful preparedness or Thinkership™.
Do this by paying attention to what’s going around you, as Tom Corrick, CEO of Boise Cascade, says on my podcast (about 30 minutes in). And when you read the Wall Street Journal, look for leadership articles describing everything that goes wrong. This way, you get to learn the lesson without absorbing the pain. This PG&E story gives you a perfect example.
Then gather your team, share the details of the stories you’ve read, and ask great questions. Do all this with the purpose of identifying and solving problems before they get big—the practice of mindful preparedness.
Don’t forget. The employees on your team closest to the action may provide the best answers to your questions, so include them in the dialogue.
Being a leader is hard work; being exceptional at it involves embracing accountability.