Leader Pathways

The Life of Leading Greatly  
June 2010

Mentoring Leaders for Bold Tomorrows

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Publishing and Speaking

In this Issue:

Wall Street, The Gulf and the Leader's Ethic:
Step onto the Leader Pathway

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   Wall Street, The Gulf and the Leader's Ethic

Michael ShenkmanStep onto the Leader Pathway

Since Leader Pathways is written for aspiring leaders like you, the lessons we can learn about leading from the financial meltdown and disaster in the Gulf are too profound to ignore.

Like so many others, I have been stunned by the slow-motion fiasco perpetrated on the Gulf of Mexico. And this catastrophe rides hard on the collapse of the financial system. A wave rides on a wave. It makes me dizzy.

To begin with, let me be clear: I am totally pro-business. It is completely exciting to have such a broad based and diverse means of producing products and services and in ever-more innovative ways. The iPod comes from a business. And I am pro-profit. Profit is like sunshine: its abundant energy fuels prosperity, diversity, and new life.

But these disasters point to a problem: some organizations are misusing their privilege to be leading forces of production. I want to discuss what lies at the core of this problem, and I will show how the Arch of Leadership envisions a worthy response.

The Problem. The causes for these disasters have been made patently clear, in countless reports, books and editorials. First, the financial collapse rolled out one, individually “rational” act and brilliant idea for securing profits at a time. These acts accumulated and built onto one another until they lost touch with reality; and still these “products” became imperatives for these financial leaders to offer. Since one firm was making money on these trumped up “derivatives”, other firms had to follow. Mania took hold. Then, when the quality of the underlying assets degenerated and the market collapsed, the whole house of cards came tumbling down. Unfortunately, that house was our economy that we depend on for our very lives.

The BP fiasco ensued from a series of intentional acts of neglect, accumulating and building on each other, one by one, in the name of speed for profit. BP feigns environmental responsibility and safety-mindedness, but acted like a petty tycoon. According to the New York Times (“Week in Review,” June 6, 2010), BP has been cited for “97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government inspectors.”

In short, these disasters resulted from failures of leadership, plain and simple. As one commenter on the leader mentoring blog reminds us, no leader came forward, and no leader was heeded, who argued for sanity, restraint, responsibility and a longer-term view of what was at stake, beyond short term profits. (See: “The Crisis in “Followership,” Go to: leadermentoring.blogspot.com)

Thus, as people who consider leadership, we need to ask, what can we do so our leading won’t have similar results? What can we exemplify to our followers and to future leaders? At the Arch, we have an answer: We can take up the leader’s ethic, enact it ourselves, and then demand that others heed it.

Attentive Responsibility

The ethic of the leader is “attentive responsibility.”

What does this ethic prescribe? Pay deep attention, invest attention, devote attention to the dynamics that an action and decision set into motion; and then take responsibility for putting into action only the most expansive, inclusive and promising of those dynamics. Bring those factors to the forefront of the criteria for making decisions.

Business leaders can easily align “attentive responsibility” with the demand that their organizations be profitable. Profits demand investment; and the investment is recouped with profit. In the leader’s ethic, one invests,freely gives one’s attention. Attention can only be given by a free act that concentrates energy into an endeavor that the leader has decided is worthy. Then one takes in, recoups,responsibility; that is, the sense of being connected, still in a giving way, to something that matters to others and helps to shape their lives. Under the rubric of attentive responsibility, profits provide a means the leader uses in order fulfill his or her vision: a commitment to create a future that is more alive and more vibrant, and more expansive and more capable than the one the leader starts with, because those products and services have made it so.

Thus, in the leader’s ethic, we already have a way to accomplish our large-scale activities and do so productively, profitably and in a sustainable way; and it is right there, free for the taking. As stockholders, citizens and leaders we can take up attentive responsibility as a universal ethic and then demand that it take precedence. Our managers and executives can be evaluated on principles that enact this ethic. Our organization’s mission statements and strategies, the cultures of our organizations can be tested against this standard.

On the leader pathway, as leaders and followers, then, we have to ask ourselves: are we ready to take up this ethic once and for all? 

Help us! You can then say that you too joined forces to launch a new way to develop the aspiring leaders who bring us bold tomorrows. To learn more about how Arch can work with YOUR organization, contact me personally or visit our website.

Two Ways to View our blog and comment on this issue of the newsletter.

Go to our website and click on “blog” in the header.
Or visit the blog directly.

(Comments are read and approved by the Arch of Leadership staff before being posted.)