Have Business Leaders Failed Us?

From the current downturn, a meme has emerged that goes something like this: It's different this time. This bad economy feels worse than the ones before, this feels more uncertain and more permanent.

Whether or not this is true, it feels true right now, in the thick of rising unemployment, falling consumer confidence and expanding inflation. And because of that, much of the business discourse has shifted, notably, away from the assumption that business is the goal, the end in itself, to something less aggressive. Something more balanced and sustainable.

Umair Haque is a powerful voice in this shift. "We're addicted to consumption," he declares in a recent post. "Our economy is built on firms whose very purpose is to sell; to relentlessly push people into endlessly consuming, without ever considering the long-run consequences."

Haque follows that up by deigning to suggest that innovation is part of the problem.

I don't always agree with Haque, but I'm on this bandwagon. As Haque notes in many of his entries, leaders are wedded to old growth strategies. Now that it's becoming clear that those strategies are unsustainable, where are the leaders who will rethink what business is and should be? I can't find them. Instead of looking for ways to adjust to the new reality, it looks to me like they're trying to bend the old reality enough that someone might think it's new.

It comes as no surprise, then, that some of the smartest examples of inspiring leadership we're writing about now come from outside the traditional business world. An elegy for the late Charles Tilly by HBR Editor Diane Coutu comes to mind, and so does Tom Davenport's meditation interdisciplinary science and its applicability to business leadership. Or there's the two-part entry on the leadership of an Army Lieutenant Colonel in Afghanistan.

In fact, I'm trying to remember a time I was inspired by a business leader who seemed to recognize the world beyond Wall Street. And I can't think of a single one.

By Scott Berinato  |  August 4, 2008; 1:00 PM ET
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its all capitalism now. there is no more people or what we care about one another. its about making money and more money and who is the richest sets the prices, makes the rules and wins the game. we live in a world of fear. fear of not having even at the risk of going into severe debt. who owns the united states because we should not be in such debt with the wealth of millionaires and billionaires in this country. what ae we doing wrong? what are we teaching our kids?

business does not care about anything but making profit it's the nature of business

i have known the u.s. mint to openly discriminate against its women, minorities and other protected classes to try to get rid of them. they still do it. its easier to make people quit and retire than it is to fire them. they will harass and make it a miserable environment to work because the average citizen doesnt know what is happening in government organizations and the department of treasury has too many other things to deal with since the debt is so high.

hey the mint thinks just get rid of the old folks, the minorities and the women and it can reduce its force without having to officially reduce its force and rule by fear. terrorize the emplooyees to the point where they want to quit. all those folks will leave then those who are harassing them will remain. sound like a great place to work. ask the higher ups and they will say it is what it is. then their minions repeat it is what it is but be careful not to get caught up in the puppet strings

Posted by: Capitalism All The Way | August 11, 2008 7:29 PM

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