Taking a long, hard look at leadershipNovember 2015
With the recent wrongdoings of the CEO of VW and numerous other tales of executive bad behaviour splashed across our screens and our broadsheets, it’s pretty clear that a business’s approach to leadership in today’s global corporate culture is in need of a rethink. An interesting observation from Ira Chaleff, the international best-selling author, speaker and consultant, caught my eye.
“This recent rash of corporate scandals is not solely a failure of leadership. It is equally a failure of responsible followership,” he says.
Drawing on his personal experience, history and the social science experiments involving obedience and authority at Yale and Stanford, he proposes a revolutionary look at how to create a culture where, rather than ‘just following orders,’ people hold themselves accountable to do the right thing, always.
“Just like the seeing eye dogs, CEOs need to master and embrace the critical skill of Intelligent Disobedience,” says Chaleff. “When the human gives an order that, if executed, will put the team in harm’s way, the seeing eye dog’s responsibility is to disobey. If we can train dogs to differentiate between when and when not to obey, why don’t we do this with humans?”
His book Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told To Do Is Wrong will make interesting reading.
The theme of leadership runs throughout this month’s issue. On p4, Alexandra Stubbings, co-founder and director of Talik & Co, the organisation development consultancy, discusses change leadership skills in light of recent events at Volkswagen.
“Creating a healthy business culture with ethical values truly embedded is a multi-year and on-going process. It demands visible and immediate punishment of bad behaviour but more importantly it requires the continual reinforcement of positive pro-ethical behaviours through multiple parallel strands. These include leadership development, symbolic senior management actions and whole organisation engagement activities, surfacing and communicating stories of positive change,” she says.
And on subsequent pages discussion around the newly prescribed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) centre on how business can take a lead in their delivery.
Talking to Tim Aldred, head of policy and research at the Fairtrade Foundation recently, he told me that the new goals – there are 169 different targets in all – are “hugely challenging, but right” and “perfectly possibly if we put our resources behind them.” He was heartened that they addressed human rights, environmental sustainability and poverty reduction more rigorously than in the Millennium Development Goals.
He felt that the SDGs are a great opportunity to take sustainable business mainstream: “They give common targets that business, government and civil society can work to. They’re not rocket science but a offer a slightly different way of thinking about things.” Admitting that things weren’t going to be easy, he said that the prize was enormous and instead of wondering at the scale of the challenge, business should see the SDGs as a moment to be optimistic and ambitious.
With that kind of leadership thinking, we may just get somewhere…
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