NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I decided this week that it would be bad form to beat up Bank of America's ( BAC)Ken Lewis in this column once again. From my previous columns related to Lewis' continuous lack of accountability and apparently questionable integrity, I have received numerous comments from those who work with and for him saying he is a good guy caught in a bad situation. OK. I don't buy it completely, but the fact is that he's resigned now and I won't kick him on his way out. If nothing else, this will herald a new era for BofA, at least if they can somehow determine a successor for Lewis by the time he leaves. But now that Bank of America has finally decided to move on from the troubled leadership of Lewis, what about Citigroup ( C)? Promoted to Citigroup CEO in December of 2007, Vikram Pandit has had nothing but trouble as the head of one of the largest banks in the world. From the start, when Wells Fargo ( WFC) eased in and took Wachovia out from under his nose, Pandit has been on a slippery slope. In times of crisis, we want our leaders to be decisive, charismatic and able to steer the ship through the storm. In many ways, it appears Pandit has none of these characteristics. To be fair, Egon Zehnder International, the human resources consultancy that Citi hired to do a management audit, gave Pandit high marks in its recent report. Nonetheless, there are key leadership traits that have been missing in his past performance that should be considered.
1. Vision to Action. The last time I used the word "vision" in this space I received feedback from those of you who believe the word is useless. I actually agree in general terms, but for now I'm talking about a leader's ability to have a view of a successful future and to take action to achieve it. Pandit may have a vision of the future but it is hard to tell. Is he dismantling Citi as Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair is pressuring him to do, or is he growing Citi through acquisitions? (Not too successful so far but still an effort). Regardless, he isn't taking action very quickly which is puzzling given the pressure on him to do so. 2. Leader of the Troops. In a long and thorough retrospective of Pandit's leadership published in New York magazine, colleagues were confounded when they approached Pandit about the morale problems within Citi. According to the report, Pandit's response was that there were bigger fish to fry. By all accounts, that focus was on salvaging his own reputation in the light of continued pressure from investors and the federal government. In times of crisis, weak leaders try to make things happen on their own. It is a panic response that is self-defeating since a behemoth like Citi can't be saved by a single person. 3. Accountability. While one could argue that Pandit inherited much of the mess of Citi from ousted CEO Chuck Prince, the fact is that to date he has taken no real responsibility for the current condition of the company. This was much of the problem with BofA's Lewis as well. Whether you like it or not, if you are the boss you have to be willing to take the responsibility for performance. This doesn't mean that leaders need to fall on their swords for transgressions of their predecessors, but the excuse that it is an "inherited mess" will only be credible for a short period. After that, your own decisions and actions will determine the future, and for these, we expect accountability.
With Egon Zehnder's assessment, it wouldn't be surprising to see Pandit continue in his role of CEO for the immediate future. The sentiment from many is that ousting Pandit would make a shaky company even more unstable. My own belief is that sooner is better than later. It seems to be inevitable that the time will come soon when Citi's board will decide that any impact of changing CEOs will be less damaging than staying the current course. -- Written by Todd Thomas in Southfield, Mich.