The Lame Leadership of Gregg Steinhafel

by Paul Talbot on January 18, 2014

Gregg Steinhafel isn’t getting the job done.  By following what is probably accepted as a prudent path, the Target President and CEO shames his organization into a deeper hole.

In the aftermath of the Eastern European hackers’ attack on Target, Mr. Steinhafel has been making curious choices.

Note this carefully crafted statement made by the Target CEO on January 17th.

“When the breach was confirmed, I was devastated.  I resolved in that moment to get to the bottom of it, and my top priority since then has been our guests.  We’ve worked for 51 years to build a real relationship with them, and I am determined to do whatever it takes to secure their trust.”

One of the Target CEO’s curious choices deals with the way the firm communicates with its customers through the media.  This week, Steinhafel declined an opportunity to be interviewed by the New York Times, but accepted an invitation to appear on CNBC.

We’re left to wonder why Steinhafel turned down the Times.  As always, this sort of a lack of accessibility stirs speculation, and none of it is good.  The Target CEO’s cautious, perhaps even petrified handlers presumably anticipated more thoughtful and difficult questioning from the Times.   It is not unreasonable to believe they felt the controlled visibility their boss required could be achieved on safer ground, on a less journalistic, less threatening stage at CNBC.

Poor decisions about media and communications have been coupled with poor decisions about leadership.  When Steinhafel first learned of the attack on December 15th, he should have immediately packed his bags and left the corporate bunker.  He should have gone out to the stores, wandering aisles, listening to customers, hugging employees, taking his shots, and demonstrating the essential grit of leadership.

Town after town, store after store, day after day, even on Christmas Eve.  He should still be out there, standing next to a display of mixing bowls, patiently listening to a woman unload on him while customers stand by with iPhones uploading these exchanges to YouTube.

This is what Gregg Steinhafel should have done.

But whatever lessons in leadership the Target CEO may have learned in school were either never absorbed to begin with, lost along the way, or overruled by Target’s dismal public affairs team.

Beth Jacob, Target Executive Vice President, Target Technology Services and Chief Information Officer, clearly should be fired.  So should Jeffrey J. Jones II, Target Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer.

Jabob failed to prevent a problem.  Jones failed to understand the problem’s depth.

Years from now, or months from now, when the Whartons and the Harvards of the world inevitably teach the lessons of the Target affair, it is not a stretch to imagine that the topic of the case study will be an avoidable failure of leadership.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: