Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In search for positive narratives of leadership

Within the context of our new research project “Towards positive narratives of leadership”, we have recently been in contact with numerous professional colleagues, leaders in firms and public enterprises. In this process we have seen that a large number of managers are looking for new paths for reliable and sustainably successful leadership behavior, after the many years of crisis as well as market and management failure. They don’t believe that yesterday’s mindset can solve the problems of tomorrow.

For many leaders the negative headlines have clouded the view of positive role models. However a positive role model is just what we were able to witness at the beginning of the New Year: hardly anyone believed in the end that the US would be able to negotiate the fiscal cliff. Thanks to their joint positive effort, Biden and McConnell managed to find a solution. Clearly what we need most are positive narratives for leaders that they are able to develop mutual solutions.

What do we mean by “positive narratives for leadership”? Five ideas come to mind:
First, it means that the firm is not understood as a selfish fighter against all other individuals or institutions in markets as well as in society, trying to reap profit from others by every legal and not so legal means. The firm is not outside but part of society, for which it must have positive regard and from which it must accept limitations and regulations. In a positive perspective, firms are required to act as economic and societal institutions. Thereby not only the leaders in firms are challenged but also those in society.

Second, leaders have to be aware that in a global and knowledge intensive society, the interactions with highly qualified and indispensable stakeholders are the key to superior value creation. These stakeholders are always human beings and have to be accepted and treated as such. They have to be accepted with their distinct knowledge, experience, values etc. All stakeholders, not only selected managers or shareholders, deserve respect and trust in providing firm specific engagement.

Third, short term profit maximization has to be replaced by the principle of economic and social value creation with and for stakeholders. This includes that contributing stakeholders get a fair share of the value created. The one-sided consideration of selected investors or managers in value distribution has to be avoided.

Fourth, the firm is always part of a complex and dynamic network of contributors and not the dominator. This embeddedness in a stakeholder network opens opportunities for mutual stimulation and positive developments for both the firm and the stakeholders.

Fifth, we also have to take a fresh look at competition. Gaining and maintaining a monopolistic competitive advantage towards others is not part of a positive mindset. The real values created for all relevant stakeholders must be transparent so that customers, investors, ranking agencies etc. can decide which firm creates the most value in an economic and social dimension.

It is a fascinating but also an urgently needed requirement to search for positive narratives of leadership that can serve as role models for leaders.

Sybille Sachs

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