Jeffrey Sonnenfeld 10:40 pm, Oct 10, 2021
The recent Yale Daily News piece about Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good, a recent winner of the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute’s Legend in Leadership award, accurately showcased many of Ms. Good’s impressive leadership qualities. Her values, competence and judgment under pressure are why so many environmentalists, regulators and community leaders think so highly of her.
Yet the story’s headline and opening paragraph, which focused on Ms. Good’s service as a board member of Boeing, were misleading. Ms. Good has not been found to have any complicity in the two horrific Boeing air crashes in 2019. Inadequately trained pilots, along with failed ground maintenance of flight sensors by air carriers and the absence of a voluntary alarm system, led to inexcusable human catastrophes. Though a Delaware judge has allowed a negligence suit against the Boeing board to go forward, the international safety agency investigations found that the failures, which have since been corrected, showed no evidence of intentional deception by the company. In the words of the U.S. Department of Justice report, “[T]he misconduct was neither pervasive across the organization, nor undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management.” Boeing has taken many significant measures since the crashes, including removing and replacing its CEO and top leadership. The board, including Ms. Good, that voted for these measures remains largely the same.
As for our decision to award Ms. Good the Legend in Leadership award, some additional context may be useful. The point of the award is not to celebrate or “cleanse” the companies of the executives we honor, but to showcase individuals whose character provides a model for others in the business world. The severity of the challenges they inherited is part of what we identify as an element of their leadership accomplishments.
Ms. Good has just such a record at Duke Energy since she became CEO in 2013. Under her stewardship, Duke has been leading the transformation from coal to renewable power, enabling North Carolina to become a massive producer of both solar and wind power. Duke is also investing in electric grid upgrades, extended battery storage and exploration of zero-carbon technologies across its operating area in Florida, the Carolinas, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. To date, Ms. Good has reduced the company’s carbon dioxide emissions by more than 40 percent.
Ms. Good was also in favor of assuming responsibility and costs for the largest cleanup of coal ash in the nation’s history, despite activist investor resistance and threats. Instead of taking a defensive stance, she championed the settlement of this legacy problem. As TIME magazine reported, Ms. Good embraced the resolution as “a reasonable, commonsense approach that protects people and the environment.”
Anthropologist Joseph Campbell’s classic work, “Hero of a Thousand Faces,” has shown that the measure of a leader across cultures, continents and centuries has been not the absence of adversity, but the ability to master adversity. Responsible careers at the highest level of business are a high-wire act requiring constant adjustments to new information and the changing nature of industry and the world. In this sense, Lynn Good more than lives up to her name.
JEFFREY SONNENFELD is the senior associate dean of leadership programs, the Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management for the Yale School of Management, and founder and president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, a nonprofit educational and research institute focused on CEO leadership and corporate governance. Contact him at [email protected]