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Heretics Wanted to Save This Economy: Author

The Best in Us: People, Profit, and the Remaking of Modern Leadership by Cleve Stevens
The Best in Us: People, Profit, and the Remaking of Modern Leadership by Cleve Stevens

Yes, it’s likely that Wall Street will be more tightly regulated – any economist who is not a fiscal fundamentalist acknowledges that.

And yes, Jamie Dimon’sseeming tone deafness and lack of genuine contrition only feed the call for such regulation.

But our economic challenges in the U. S. and beyond call for much more than simply the creation of new laws that would constrain our more self-indulgent tendencies.

It even goes beyond the austerity vs growth-via-spending debate.

There is something off in our most basic understanding of business and how we lead the organization – and why organizations exist in the first place.

Addressing the issue of re-regulating (or not) and the austerity-growth debate are, in a sense, only stopgap measures.

We might suspect that a brutally painful recovery from the most crippling economic downturn since the Great Depression would get our most creative attention. But even with the suffering of 10s of millions of people squarely before us, that doesn’t seem to be the case. We are still in denial of the financial precipice on which we teeter. To shift metaphors a bit, it’s like we’ve just been run over by a run-away convoy of Mac Trucks, we’re still in critical condition, and yet the best we can do is mandate the improvement of semi bumpers? Really? Are you kidding me?

We’ve got to do better than this, not simply because our profit margins are insufficient, and not simply because wealth has become too concentrated in the hands of a few, but because our economic and cultural survival may well depend upon it.

A bit extreme you say? Actually, if history is any indication, it’s probably a bit of an understatement.

The fact is, we must rethink our understanding of business, the organization, and how we lead both. Given the fact that business is the most influential institution in the modern world, business must embrace its unavoidable responsibility to lead, really lead. And this begins with a willingness to bravely examine some of our most basic (dare I say “sacred”?) assumptions.

"We’ve got to do better than this, not simply because our profit margins are insufficient, and not simply because wealth has become too concentrated in the hands of a few, but because our economic and cultural survival may well depend upon it." -Author, "The Best in Us", Dr. Cleve Stevens

The first assumption needing scrutiny is that business is exclusively about the all-important bottom line. As shocking as it may be to some, this piece of dogma no longer holds up. As former HSBC chairman, now Britain’s minister of trade, Stephen Green, puts it, profits are an “of course,” but in our ever-evolving world “profits can no longer be the be all to end all of business.” Rather than the raison d’etre, profit should be the natural by-product of success, he says, or as I like to say, the inevitable outcome of an unflinching commitment to comprehensive excellence.

The other assumption that bears consideration follows from the first and usually goes entirely unacknowledged up and down the corporate food chain: that people are there, above all, to merely serve the money-making machine.

It sounds so medieval to our twenty-first century ears, but the simple fact is in most business organizations people are merely the means (objects, not subjects) to the end of enhanced shareholder value. We avert our eyes from this obvious fact out of a fear that the only alternative to it is socialism. But, simply put, that is not so. In fact, arguably the most robust expression of merit-based capitalism out there today is one that declares people (their growth and ensuing happiness) as the organization’s primary endgame. And, perhaps ironically, when all else is equal, this approach consistently out-profits its profit-worshipping cousins.

In one of the best expressions of this leadership method I’ve seen, the leader’s job is two-fold. First, to substantively grow both leaders and followers and, second, to thus achieve excellence (and success) throughout the organization and in the marketplace. The two principles – growth and excellence – require one another.

Far from being a soft-headed, everyone-must-always-be-happy approach, it demands the best from leaders and followers – and systematically provides the opportunity to achieve as much. And in the right leadership hands it yields results that can be downright startling.

There are better ways of leading capitalism, but to see them we must become heretical and liberate ourselves from the economic dogma of the past century.

Heretics wanted – NOW!

Cleve Stevens has worked in leadership development for twenty-five years. He holds a bachelor's degree from the UC Irvine, a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a PhD in social ethics from the USC. He has taught at the graduate and undergraduate level and has published numerous articles on leadership and the psychology of leadership. Dr. Stevens is the founder and president of the Los Angeles based leadership consulting firm, Owl Sight Intentions, Inc. (www.owlsightintentions.com). He is the author of the new book, “THE BEST IN US: People, Profit and the Remaking of Modern Leadership” (www.TheBestInUsbook.com). Cleve can be reached at: cs@owlsightintentions.com

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