So, where have all the good leaders gone?
Inspiring Social entrepreneur Gordon D’Silva OBE explains how the time is right for social impact to become a core business focus, and how leaders of the future see the need to make a difference too.
As someone involved in developing several social enterprise business initiatives over the years, I have frequently been asked the question, “What makes for a “good” leader?”
Are the universal qualities of leadership inherent or are they dormant and just waiting to be realized? Are they shaped through a myriad of environmental factors or can one learn to be a good leader or successful entrepreneur? Are democratic leadership-styles inherently more compatible to civil society than autocratic leadership or are laissez-faire leaders or communal decision-makers more effective?
The over simplicity of good versus bad, autocratic versus democratic, laissez-faire versus communal hides a blinding truth – the good leader is probably a combination of all of these characteristics. He or she will be as imperfect and flawed as we all are in our daily personal and work interactions.
Whatever is your take, a “good” leader will also be the product of social and environmental circumstance shaped by opportunity, tempered through adversity and required by a moment in time that demands a different approach to what went before.
The concept of leadership – much defined, researched and disputed over the centuries – still lacks a universal perspective as to what it constitutes. But yet, when we see it in practice, we know it instantly.
So why does leadership resist definitive definition?
And why are we currently struggling to find leaders of today equipped with the requisite skills so necessary to tackle the challenges of tomorrow? What type of leadership would be better equipped to deal with the extraordinary challenges we face in these most precarious of times?
“ …to achieve real seismic change, it will require the creators of wealth to provide leadership capable of achieving sustainable prosperity for the whole community and not exclusively to the elite few. It will require tomorrow’s innovators in business to accept – what for me is the blindingly obvious – that the greatest risk to financial capital in the 21st Century will be the unyielding rise of global inequality.”
The 21st Century paradox of an increasingly open and connected world operating in parallel to an increasingly unequal and disconnected marketplace is taking the “social contract” between the instruments of power and civil society to breaking point.
Classical Keynesian economic solutions in the Western world can no longer be a viable leadership guide on their own and trickle-down monetarist economics has simply failed to trickle to the benefit of the many and not just the few. Equally, the reliance of business leaders “do-gooding” through traditional corporate philanthropy has been successful only up to a point.
If we are to achieve real seismic change, it will require the creators of wealth to provide leadership capable of achieving sustainable prosperity for the whole community and not exclusively to the elite few. It will require tomorrow’s innovators in business to accept – what for me is the blindingly obvious – that the greatest risk to financial capital in the 21st Century will be the unyielding rise of global inequality.
These extraordinary times will require different leadership qualities to emerge that are not traditionally familiar to business executives. Working with and not against this complexity will be the key challenge. To be more specific, finding business solutions to perennial social problems that also impede shareholder value should become the “new normal.”
For example, all businesses, small or large, share the same threats posed by rapid population growth in cities, housing shortages, skills shortages, regional and rural depopulation, mass migrant movements, youth unemployment, climate change, fuel poverty, resource depletion and the continually shrinking capacity of the ecosystem to support us.
On some level, most of us are aware of the extraordinary challenges we face and that solutions are more likely to be found through an inter dependent world reliant more on networks and less on organisations; more on creators of wealth and less on policy makers.
Yet most of us accept the 20th Century rulebook of State “calling the shots” even though our political leaders have lost our trust like never before.
Is this fair?
I suspect not entirely. We no longer have the leaders we need because we are no longer certain of the leaders we want. And the world needs – like at no other time – leaders at all levels capable of driving business innovation, large or small, that is also socially responsible.
In the absence of social innovators and leaders capable of bursting the festering boil of unrelenting inequality, we will continue to experience the growth of nationalist movements emerging and a return to protectionist markets, closed borders and greater insecurity experienced by all.
The dangers are immense and on some level most of us – albeit sub-consciously – are aware that our instinct of self-preservation will tell us that change needs to occur, as increasingly an open and connected world of powerful networks is replacing the once all-powerful organisation. This is a destabilising period for us all. It can also be a period of great existential growth.
It can be a period in which we, as leaders and senior executives, might be able to fashion a new role to play – no matter how small; that the time is right to re-focus the lens on how you want to work with how they live. How often does one hear “I want to be able to maximise my profitable returns but I also want to be able to make a difference.”
There has never been a more timely moment to accept this challenge. The little joined up makes for a lot. The little on their own remains…little!
Gordon D’Silva OBE is one of the UK’s pioneers of social enterprise and social investment business models. He is the recipient of several business and academic awards and in 2011 was awarded an OBE for his contributions to social enterprise and can be contacted on UK: +44 7584417992 or IT: +39 3427129305