With all the leadership scandals and breakdowns in virtually every
segment of society bombarding us day-in and day-out, it is easy to
become cynical about our leaders today. Yet we’re cautiously optimistic
despite the massive challenges we face.
Leaders acknowledge reality, and we don’t avoid the disheartening,
even outrageous, leadership failures we come across. (You don’t need
another list of them, do you?)
“You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the
end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the
discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality,”
-Jim Collins, in Good to Great, describing the “Stockdale Paradox”
(referring to U.S. Navy vice admiral James Stockdale1 who was shot
down and held captive for eight years—and tortured
repeatedly—during the Vietnam War)
So, why are we cautiously optimistic even while recognizing the scale of
the challenges? It turns out that there is a lot of good news too,
emerging trends that bode well for a robust response to the challenges
whatever they might be.”
Transparency: With instant smartphone photos, videos, and
tweets racing around the world at hyper speed, it is becoming
increasingly difficult to hide things. In bygone days, leaders’
actions were hidden from public view. In the age of WikiLeaks,
whistleblowers, and crowd-sourced scrutiny, those days are over.
Consciousness: So many young people today are much more
socially and environmentally conscious. Now many people have
taken up the causes of the triple bottom line2 (planet, people,
profit), fair trade, human rights, and more. Businesses and
governments are waking up too.
Ratings: Now there is growing interest in ratings and rankings.
We have annual publications of the world’s most ethical, trusted,
admired, sustainable, and more. We have consumer ratings on
everything. Leaders ignore these ratings at their peril, as today’s
consumers and workers choose their products and workplaces
increasingly through the filter of their values.
Regulations: Governments are passing legislation and imposing
rules that curb abusive behavior. These laws won’t ever be
perfect, and many people will continue to look for loopholes or
push the envelope to see what they can get away with. We can’t
change human nature (there will always be greedy and evil
people), but we can influence human behavior (and that’s what
better leadership is all about).
New Models: New models of leadership are emerging and being
implemented that go beyond the command-and-control models of
the past: transformational, values-based, authentic, level 5,
servant, triple crown leadership, and more.
Evolution of Capitalism: More enlightened versions of capitalism
are emerging that go beyond the “maximize shareholder value”
mantra that is becoming increasingly obsolete and discredited. In
the 1980s, Ed Freeman articulated his “stakeholder theory”3 (an
alternative to shareholder theory). More recently, “conscious
capitalism”4 has been gaining traction and adherents, and other
models are emerging (such as Michael Porter’s notion of “shared
value”). See “Redefining Capitalism”5 from McKinsey.
These are powerful trends. Of course, our leaders and leadership
models will never be perfect. We’re all human and subject to the frailties
of human judgment, especially when under pressure from multiple
directions, as many leaders are today. But we now have many allies in
our quest to build excellent, ethical, and enduring organizations—the
hallmark of triple crown leadership.
So, we shall continue fighting the good fight, hoping to make our own
contributions to improving leadership in a world that needs it badly.
“Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or
actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities—always see them, for
they’re always there.”
-Norman Vincent Peale
Bob Vanourek and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of and speakers on Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, winner of the 2013 International Book Award (Business: General).