'Waking Up To Responsibility'

There is a stirring in the Alps. An awakening perhaps.

This year the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos has as its theme Responsive and Responsible Leadership. Lofty perhaps, but for many of us, this has been a theme of our leadership paradigm for many years and it is heartening to find that the great and the good of the Corporate, Political and Academic worlds are waking up to the need to have a bigger purpose in our societies, organisations and communities.

One might wonder what has provoked this crisis of conscience amongst leaders who have for decades been interested only in growing profit for shareholders or growing empires or political influence to further personal egos. Could it be that the rise of nationalism and popularist opinions that is sticking two fingers up to the establishment has stirred the sleepy giants to action out of a need for self-preservation? Quite possibly.

Being generous though, I hope that it is not only that (some of this will undoubtedly be true), but that a series of profound truths long buried so very deep in hearts, minds and souls of leaders have been rediscovered, and not before time. Truths like the fact that most human beings want to have purpose and meaning in their lives and that their places of work could actually contribute towards this. Truths such as most of us wanting to belong to something genuinely respected including our communities and our work places. Truths that most human beings seek what is essentially good and worthy rather than evil. Furthermore, it is to be hoped that the leaders of corporations and our society are waking up to their role as leaders in inspiring a sense of purpose and belonging that is worthy for more than a select few. For it is this separation of goals, vision and experienced reality between those at the top and those in the middle and at the bottom of corporations and our society that has played such an important part in the rebellion against the establishment.

Responsible leadership is fundamentally a simple concept, almost blindingly obvious. It is about thinking about and enacting the wider ethical, moral and societal impact of decisions such that the greater good is served and in so doing, our own specific local needs might also be met. However, it is also about being willing to see the long game and subordinate competitive advantage if that were to lead to a collective diminishing of good. Of course, such a choice might prove unpopular and require a different kind of genuine connection with the populous at a deeper and authentic level rather than through the annual report or bland media statement.

By way of example, Abraham Lincoln's bold actions during the American civil war to abolish slavery and unify the nation were very unpopular in many quarters. He probably knew that the short term would be tough but he was determined to hold fast to his bigger goal in the knowledge that it was right for more people in the longer term. He was not afraid also to engage in proper and meaningful dialogue in the process. And he discovered the cost of Responsible Leadership, personally. Perhaps that's why so many of our current so called leaders have avoided the tough choices thus far. Self-preservation. For at its core, Responsible Leadership is sacrificial. Now that's counter cultural for sure.

 Tim Richardson January 2017

The Responsible Leader (e-version)

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