Good leadership must address the crisis of values

13th December by Gina Lodge

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Coronavirus gifts us a new rite of passage for leaders and organisations. An opportunity to be better, do better and better serve all stakeholders.

The challenges inherent in this new world of work are deserving of us embracing a more progressive, enabling leadership style that puts people first and business second. It is also a necessary shift if we are to truly focus on recovery and start the important transition to a better normal.

With covid-19, there is both an intellectual and an emotional case for leaders to step back and reflect on how they can lead their people. Command and control, hero leaders have no place in the present or the future. Leadership needs to be inclusive, transformational, conscious, collaborative, and humane. It must be a vehicle by which organisations and their workers can contribute to building a brighter and more sustainable future for everyone.

Prior to the pandemic we were already swimming in a sea of change. We have long known that there is a problem with leadership in that old models are untenable – flawed. This, and the backdrop of shifting customer priorities, the blurring of traditional boundaries between employer and employee and the replacement of wealth and status with purpose and meaning, combine in calling for a rethink on how leadership should work.

In stakeholders pushing the envelope on ethical credentials and Covid riding roughshod over businesses and globalised markets, we find ourselves exposed to a perfect storm. Economic, environmental, fiscal, cultural, and political crises are colliding and creating the space where pledges and words need to be put into action with a commitment to change things for the better.

Though there is little in recent history we can truly compare the pandemic’s shocks to, the last time the world experienced a milestone of this magnitude, the global economy plunged into freefall because of 2008’s financial market crash. Valuable lessons were there to be learned as the banks found themselves being bailed out by taxpayers but paying a high reputational price as public confidence and trust in financial institutions collapsed.

Issues such as trust and integrity took centre stage as the public blamed the banks and their leaders for the situation’s enormity. As Mark Carney, former governor with the Bank of England says in ‘Values’, ‘The global financial crisis was as much a crisis of culture as of capital.’ Carney says finance had lost track of its core values of fairness, integrity, prudence, and responsibility resulting in a ‘crisis of values as well as value.’

Today, as we still grapple with this global pandemic, blame is being levelled at the world’s figure heads and senior leaders for not doing the right thing, at the right time, in time. Vulnerability and fragility have played out with huge human and economic costs, reminding us that humanity is very much at the mercy of mightier forces. Although piles of debt and misaligned incentives are not to blame this time, the crisis of values is still making its presence felt. We see with some repeated experiences, that values and purpose still hold an important place in society and should in business.

Many though, have been touched and moved by expressions of kindness, empathy, and care as we have dealt with furlough, home schooling, isolation, and remote working. It is this spirit, the human imperative, that leadership styles should embody.

Good leadership must be fair, effective, and impactful if it is to have a meaningful legacy. It should demonstrate care in a world that has become high on carbon and hooked on growing wealth for the few. We need to re-engineer what strong leadership is by listening to our people, our customers, one another and learning from lessons in the past.   

Like the climate crisis, this is just one piece of the challenging jigsaw puzzle we face. Leadership and work need to be decoupled from money, power, and dominance. By cultivating a new mindset of empowering and caring for others and the systems we work within, only then can we be part of the solution, not the problem.

Our deepest thanks to our friends at the Global Peter Drucker Forum for allowing us to share this article.

This article is one in the “shape the debate” series relating to the 13th Global Peter Drucker Forum, under the theme “The Human Imperative” which was held on November 10 + 17 (digital) and 18 + 19 (in person), 2021.