Henry II, facing a disagreement with Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett in 1164, is reported to have shouted out in frustration, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Four knights heard what Henry had shouted and interpreted it to mean that the king wanted Beckett dead. They rode to Canterbury and did the deed.
This story exemplifies the term myrmidon. From this source, we get the following definition: "A loyal follower; especially: a subordinate who executes orders unquestioningly or unscrupulously."
One of the dangers for a CEO is the tendency for your subordinates to take what you say and execute it to a degree you never intended.
Now, let's take a quick look at the VW story, courtesy of the New York Times:
Martin Winterkorn, Volkswagen’s chief executive, took the stage four years ago at the automaker’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., and outlined a bold strategy. The company, he said, was in the midst of a plan to more than triple its sales in the United States in just a decade — setting it on a course to sweep by Toyota to become the world’s largest automaker.
“By 2018, we want to take our group to the very top of the global car industry,” he told the two United States senators, the governor of Tennessee and the other dignitaries gathered for the opening of Volkswagen’s first American factory in decades.
One way Volkswagen aimed to achieve its lofty goal was by betting on diesel-powered cars — instead of hybrid-electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius — promising high mileage and low emissions without sacrificing performance.
The determination by Mr. Winterkorn, the company’s hard-charging chief executive, to surpass Toyota put enormous strain on his managers to deliver growth in America.
Volkswagen officials now state that Mr. Wintrerkorn knew nothing of the regulatory cheating that his engineers had designed into the company's engines. Some are skeptical:
“For something of this magnitude, one would expect that the CEO would know, and if he doesn’t know, then he’s willfully ignorant,” said Jeffrey A. Thinnes, a former Daimler executive who works as a consultant for European companies on compliance and ethics issues.
We may never know. But what we can be sure of is that the myrmidons at VW thought they were carrying out the intent of the CEO.