The month of June is ending. The rains have started and the school year is well under way. In Bilbao, the first Global Dialogue on Sustainable Business is underway and at AIM, the second term of the MBA program is ending and our students have just finished reporting on their walkabouts.
For me, it is a week for thinking about space, discovery and dreams. It is a week for thinking about what kind of leadership is necessary to change the world.
As I write this, I am listening to an international group of business people and academics talk about corporate social responsibility, sustainability and social innovation.
The dialogues began with very broad brush strokes of large global trends – climate change; dwindling natural resources; the war for talent; the increasing power of corporations; the changing relationship between business, government, consumer, shareholder and community; demographic shifts; rapid technological advances; the knowledge economy.
Much like other conversations on this same topic, the sense in this room is that it is a time both of grave concerns and great opportunity. In this room with participants from five continents of the world, from businesses ranging from technology to banking to health to manufacturing, there is agreement on the large concerns. However, clearly the situation and perspectives are very different.
Early on the second day, Peter Kusterer, the gentleman in charge of CSR for IBM Germany explained their belief that the real measure of a company is not what it says about itself; the real measure is what others say about it. This is reflective of the type of thinking involved in corporate responsibility – a more explicit acknowledgment of the inter-connectedness between companies and society, a sense of the “greater We.”
Where the Rubber meets the Road
These explicit statements of philosophy, policy and values are important. They form a touchstone for corporate decisions and action. The most powerful of these statements go beyond generalities. They embody the heart and soul of the enterprise. They help create the identity of the corporation. However, they must be statements that are true to the intent and reality of the enterprise.
What every manager knows, of course, is that crafting these statements are the easiest part of the job. Actually embedding these values into the culture of the organization; generating commitment from employees, truly engaging stakeholders, creating real impact - those are the real challenges.
What many people believe is that the big problems of the world require great change and high levels of cooperation. Real cooperation requires not only shared goals and a shared understanding of the road forward, it requires trust.
Across the world, the Occupy movement has vented its ire against not only governments but also against big business. The allegation is that big business does not understand the human face of the economic crisis. For many of those who join the movement, big business also probably does not have a human face. This is part of the challenge of implementing the vision of a more connected society – the ability to have real conversations, the ability to humanize our interactions.
Conversations, of course, are not enough. Trust is only a beginning. Achieving significant goals require long-term and effective action. It requires capability and commitment. On a global scale, there is another more worrisome concern. In many companies, the barrier to great impact seems to be neither values nor trust, neither capability nor commitment. The real barrier to great impact seems to be a failure in ambition, a fixation on modest goals, a proliferation of non-scalable solutions.
Part of the “small goals” mindset is risk aversion. This is also one of the greatest barriers to innovation and rapid growth. Companies that rely on an entrepreneurial mindset for growth know this. Innovative companies have systems that provide space to experiment, room to fail, resources for trying new things and a culture that tolerates failure. They have leaders who know that failure is part of the road to success, that great achievement requires audacity in goal setting.
This is one of the great challenges for those of us who are faced with preparing these leaders. How do we provide that combination of hope, courage and audacious ambition necessary to truly change the world?
In education, there are three types of learning goals: knowledge, skills and attitude. Knowledge is the easiest goal, skills are more difficult, and attitudes are the most difficult. The reality is that none of these three categories captures the essence of leadership that is needed in those that will help change the world.
The leaders that will change the world require a discovery of personal vision, a sense of destiny, that fountain of courage and fortitude that can come only from a deep and abiding faith in something that is personally and deeply meaningful.
In AIM, the walkabout is the capstone of the course on Managing People in Organizations. It is an individually designed project meant to help the student learn something through experience. The term walkabout derives from the Australian aborigine practice of going native between periods of regular work. Some writers use the term walkabout in the sense of a spiritual journey or rite of passage. While this sounds quite romantic, the real practice of going “walkabout” – “going native” – apparently had more to do with Australian natives leaving work to do much more mundane things such as visiting family.
What we have discovered in these walkabouts is that the internal experience is very different from what is evident to the observer. This discovery of self is a very personal journey. It is an important step in the honing of a leader. This requires space, a certain level of flexibility.
This is one part of creating a leader who can transform his organization, or even the world – a strong core, an anchor. The other part involves the ability to push the envelope; a predisposition to aim, not for the easy goal, but for the far horizon. Hope. Courage. Inspiration. Big Dreams. That is how changing the world begins.
First published 28 June 2013 by The Manila Standard Today in the column Integrations by maya baltazar herrera.
You can email Maya at [email protected] Please visit her archives at manilastandardtoday.com/author/maya-baltazar-herrera or integrations.tumblr.com or www.mayaherrera.aim.edu.