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