Posted by: Bruce Weinstein, PhD on February 05, 2010
Akio Toyoda, President of Toyota Motor Corporation, has apologized for his company’s debacle surrounding design flaws with various car models. Should we praise someone who does what he or she is ethically required to do?
It’s true that Toyoda has taken responsibility for his company’s mistakes, which is a necessary condition of ethical leadership.
Toyoda didn’t shift the blame to others, or use the passive voice (“mistakes were made”), or simply deny that there was a problem.
These are some of the hallmarks of the failure to take apologies seriously and we've seen too much of this with other leaders.
But ultimately an apology is merely a few words strung together.
Their utterance may be a necessary, but they are not sufficient, and they hardly constitute restitution for the millions of Toyota customers who purchased their automobiles under the reasonable assumption that the accelerator pedal and brakes would work properly.
We don’t have all of the facts yet to determine what the appropriate penalty should be. But it is not too soon to rightfully expect that Toyota will do everything possible to prevent further harm to the public, to improve the design of its cars, and to demonstrate to their shareholders that people, not profits, are the company’s first concern. That’s not only the ethical thing to do; in the long run it’s best way to repair the company’s image and boost the value of its stock, which has dropped 20% in the last two weeks .
It is never too late to right a wrong.
Dr. Bruce Weinstein, The Ethics Guy, is the author of "Is It Still Cheating If I Don’t Get Caught?" (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press, 2009).
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