Leaders may have many tools and skills, but the wrong conviction, ethics, values, motivation and especially attitude. Still too many CEOs look like Tintin, behave like Quentin Tarantino’s version of Lucky Luke, take decisions like they are in a cowboy film and do business with the Daltons to enjoy immense and unjustified bonuses. But a ‘show me the money’ attitude is not a sustainable leadership style for a company leader, and less so for someone who leads people. Quite a few people who I have interviewed in the course of my work have told me they think this is the real origin of the current crisis.
Crisis in leadership means personal crisis.
This is quite simple. If someone goes over the top, someone else will pay for it, and normally the weaker one. This is our status quo. Such an attitude can drag a whole workforce in the wrong direction.
I have come to the conclusion that we have more a crisis of leadership than any other thing. You could also call it a crisis of business ethics and integrity. Rudi Plettinx, Vice President and Managing Director of the Center for Creative Leadership (ccl.org), told me during an interview last year that he would also describe the current finance and economic crisis as one of leadership. He describes creative leadership as the way to think beyond and expand personal boundaries to be effective, but he assumes that the educational system is not yet preparing people for the challenges of the future. I also talked to a Buddhist monk about the same subject. He reflected on the crisis as a spiritual one:
‘If your mind is less jealous, less competitive and with less anger, your mind is brighter.’
Still, too many companies and bosses believe economic value is the only raison d’être — the reason to exist — for a company and salary the only motivation for individuals to work. This is not true. There are, however, changes and new approaches to leadership. The Thunderbird Business School (thunderbird.edu) for example, one of the top business schools worldwide, now formally defines an oath of honour, believed to be the first of its kind at a business school. Since 2006 they have formally included it in the overall educational experience, application to study there, curriculum and at graduation where students are actually are asked to sign up to the Thunderbird Oath of Honor. It reads:
‘As a Thunderbird and a global citizen, I promise I will strive to act with honesty and integrity, I will respect the rights and dignity of all people, I will strive to create sustainable prosperity worldwide, I will oppose all forms of corruption and exploitation, and I will take responsibility for my actions. As I hold true to these principles, it is my hope that I may enjoy an honorable reputation and peace of conscience. This pledge I make freely and upon my honor.’
It sounds very nice and will, with luck, make an impact because there are many new ways of making business and profits which bring about positive social change. These new ways of doing business will recognize social and environmental problems and use entrepreneurial principles to create and manage societal change.
Remember, though, corporate social responsibility(CSR) starts with individual social responsibility (ISR). CSR will be decisive not only for traditional business success, but also for future social acceptance. To combine creative with social leadership will bring exceptional new leaders.
In this new area of responsibility we need more women in leadership positions who have the natural capacity to lead, listen and observe, and use their expertise and substance to encourage and start dialogues without prejudice and with transparency. Leaders need to be able to communicate their values and visions without imposing them. Making substantial improvement is the aim. As Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations once said: ‘There will be no important social change without females.’ Imagine a company which aims to create positive social change through its business. Combining business principles with social ventures in this way has enormous power, enormous synergies and benefits. Just think about the work of Muhammad Yunus, the founder and manager of Grameen Bank, (grameen-info.org), a microcredit banking system for the poor which supports social initiatives like housing for the poor, microenterprise loans, education loans and scholarships etc. Incidentally, 97% of the lenders are women, and the bank has the same percentage as loan recovery rate. A quick way to review these kind of businesses is the Fast Company Magazine (fastcompany.com), which annually publishes a list of the twenty-five best social entrepreneurs, which the magazine defines as organisations ‘using the disciplines of the corporate world to tackle daunting social problems.’