There are so many words to describe leadership and almost all point to action; leaders, the best leaders, act.
This sounds so right, so intuitively right; yet, my question is about what is the right action? How do we know, how do we ever know if what we do when we act is going to be of benefit, going to move our lives, personally and professionally in the direction of success?
In our leadership development program I have posed these questions over and over. What is interesting is that the answers I get in the first session are far different than the responses that come about in the fourth and last session of the program.
First session answers are about taking the action needed in the moment, almost always considering short term gains. Will there be more value add for the customer, will there be a better price point for the salespeople to leverage the product, and so on?
What happens from these appropriate, yet in my estimation short sighted answers is that everyone in the program spends the next two sessions looking at business, at leadership, at life from a systems perspective. That changes the rules of the game every time.
Here is what happens. Looking at the next sales cycle, at what will bring in the bucks is the way we have been taught to think. Yet, there is a larger perspective that is now getting more and more play in the work world. It is about sustainability and our responsibility to each other and to the world in which we live.
By the fourth session bold leadership is seen as the willingness to think through the long term implications of what products and services are really valuable, how what is sold and done moves things forward.
Bold leadership is seen as the willingness to say “I will not participate in producing products that pollute the environment” or “I will not participate in business development that may cause harm in the future” or “I will not support those who are withholding information for better marketing sound bites.” The list goes on and on.
Bold leadership is the capacity to consider the fact that we are all in it (translate that as Life) together and “no one wins unless we all do“. That is the basis of systems thinking, of business ethics, of living a purposeful life.
The list of companies, list of leaders who have turned a blind eye to consequences of ethical business behavior is long, Enron is almost a memory, Goldman Sacks is today’s news. Merck and Vioxx is an archived story, yet Pfizer recently had a whistle blower take bold action.
I believe all leadership development programs need to have a section to discuss the implications of bold leadership. I believe that self awareness and understanding how all systems are connected and how each individual action is part of a larger whole will produce a new generation of bold leaders. Bold leaders are those who have the courage and conviction to say “I will only participate in actions that consider long term, positive results to the best of my ability”.