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Developing Responsible Leadership for Sustainability: A Categorical Imperative

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To say that we live in ‘turbulent’ times is the understatement of our century. To say that we live in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world does not begin to capture the reality of the situation in which we currently find ourselves. To lament that we are in a ‘crisis’ — an event defined as ‘temporary’ — is to bury our heads in the sand. For the truth is that during the last 20 years we have lurched from one crisis to another.

 

Consider this: in recent years we have gone from a financial crisis affecting the daily lives of many people to a health crisis — COVID-19 with its six million deaths and still counting. Both of these have been played out against the background of that overarching crisis, climate change and its multiplicity of extreme events. And always, somewhere in the world, there is a geopolitical crisis — destructive wars in Syria, the Yemen and Afghanistan, rising tensions across the Pacific and most recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

To lament that we are in a ‘crisis’ — an event defined as ‘temporary’ — is to bury our heads in the sand. For the truth is that during the last 20 years we have lurched from one crisis to another.

In retrospect we now realise that the financial crisis of 2008 offered a timely opportunity for the transformation of the role, functions and operations of the banking system and the mindset of its leaders. Sadly, that opportunity was missed. However, the current health crisis of 2020/22 is a second — and perhaps the last — chance to rethink our societal model, our dominant economic paradigm. And this time the opportunity must not be missed. To label climate change as merely a ‘crisis’ would be a huge mistake, for to counter it will entail a very long fight, possibly an even longer one than we will be able to sustain. But failure to take on this challenge would have devastating consequences for future generations. For them, a return to ‘business as usual’ could prove lethal.

 

From Singapore, the current geopolitical crisis in Ukraine might seem a distant event taking place too far away to have a serious impact on the ASEAN region. But this too would be a mistake for Singapore, also a prisoner in the net of our global interdependence. Any genuine appraisal of our global village makes it crystal clear that we all belong to the same ‘human community’, one which is our ‘Common Home’.

An ultimatum on the 1.50C target

In the last three decades, global greenhouse gas emissions have shot up by more than 60%. Temperatures are now 1.20C above pre-industrial levels – uncomfortably close to the 1.50C limit needed to preserve our environment. Photo: Hugo Jehanne / Unsplash

Today, we are finally beginning to grasp the true extent of our complex interdependence and recognise how quickly what begins as a local or regional crisis can rapidly take on a global dimension that can impact our supply chains, our travels, our lifestyles and our mindsets. However, a crisis — as we all know — can also bean opportunity for us to change and to innovate.What we are experiencing today is more than a mere transition but a metamorphosis, a ‘civilisation’ change taking place as the cracks in the walls of the liberal and capitalist systems become evermore apparent. The present dominant system has visibly failed to make the planet more habitable to bring more human happiness and greater equity to our planet. Rather, it has turned humans into a ‘resource’ to be exploited in a system fueled by consumption and characterised by stringent performance demands to meet ever increasing growth objectives.In this speech I will explore some of the implications of this situation for our planet and discuss how leadership, notably in politics and business, could help prevent the final collapse of our crumbling walls.

 

In the light of The Economist’s1 comment that “the sheer amount of guff written about leadership, management and careers is staggering…” I should perhaps have avoided choosing ‘leadership’ as my theme in addressing today’s distinguished audience. However, after 60 years spent observing the planet, 50 years of teaching management models and peddling theories and concepts and coaching business leaders in Europe, the US and Asia I am convinced that improving leadership skills and developing ‘responsible’ leaders remain an imperative: in fact, a ‘categorical’ imperative.

Business leaders must play their part as key actors in the change process that we are all now experiencing. Passing the buck to other stakeholders would be both irresponsible and unacceptable to today’s society.

When disaster strikes

The number of disasters is projected to reach 1.5 each day, statistically speaking, by 2030, according to a report released by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. It blames these disasters on a broken perception of risk based on ‘optimism, underestimation and invincibility’ which leads to policy, finance and development decisions that exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and put people in danger. Photo: David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy

With finance in the driving seat and genetic technology and digital innovation seized by hubris, the obsession with growth is leading us all into a perilous, unknown future.

In this short presentation I shall illustrate how and why it is imperative for business leaders, political leaders and citizens to cooperate in order to leverage the present situation and induce the changes necessary to ensure sustainability, welfare and a happy life for future generations. Assuming, that is, that they care about the grandchildren of their grandchildren.

 

A GLOOMY PICTURE OF THE STATE OF THE PLANET

We all know that the road to sustainability will belong and bumpy, fraught with many challenges and requiring a great deal of innovation. Commitment to taking this road are many and promises are numerous, but real action is still lagging — or rather proceeding at a pace that does not match the urgency. Greenwashing is still flourishing. The need to integrate Environmental, Social and Governance(ESG) in management is more or less accepted —though not always understood — but “ESG in its current form is more a buzzword than a solution”2while the road to decarbonising, though promising, is still the road less travelled3. The planet is burning, yet the rich continue to become richer even as the number of the poor increases. With finance in the driving seat and genetic technology and digital innovation seized by hubris, the obsession with growth is leading all into a perilous, unknown future. Anxiety and fear about the future are very visible in some parts of the world, leading to a desperate search for meaning in a world of chaos. Against this background, the dystopian societies portrayed in many Hollywood productions may not just turn out to be fairy tales, meant to exorcise our fears!

What global warming?

The algorithms behind social media tend to encourage the creation of echo chambers that isolate individuals by systematically manipulating whom they trust. This adversely affects environmental journalism and constrains world leaders from garnering long-term public support when promoting climate-informed decisions. Source: Natural Resource Defense Council

HSBC subvertising campaign

Poster designs by Matt Bonner for Brandalism’s mass takeover of public advertising space calls out HSBC’s investments in fossil fuels. In defiance of HSBC’s ‘net-zero ambition’ in 2020, artworks were created by 15 artists parodying and responding to the bank’s ‘We are not an island’ billboard campaign. Source: Brandalism

If we are to escape the unhappiest of endings when the earth on which our homes have been built — our dominant socio-economic system —collapses, then a fundamental change in both our mindsets and our behaviour is urgently needed. Four decades ago, the Club of Rome blew the whistle and warned us of the dangers our addiction to growth would bring. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)4 and the COP26meetings constantly raise the alarm and try to provoke action that will change the dominant paradigm. For the alternative to change is that we bequeath an unlivable planet to future generations.

 

Back in 1996 a wise INSEAD professor clearly warned us that we were on the wrong road: “In my view, life on planet earth itself is at risk. I now think that economic growth as measured by gross national product (GNP) is mostly an illusion… Development along the conventional — increasing GDP per capita — is not necessarily increasing social welfare… I now think that the popular phrase ‘sustainable economic growth’ as it is currently interpreted by the dominant business and government institutions of our society, is probably an oxymoron.”5 This frank, gloomy statement was made nearly 30 years ago! Today, its truth still rings loud and clear to those who hear.

 

LEADERS AND ‘RESPONSIBLE’ LEADERS: WHAT IS THEIR ROLE IN SOCIETY?

It is a given that solutions must come from the cooperation of political, business and society leaders working in a democratic community. However, to repeat that mindsets must change, that a new model must be developed and implemented and that behaviours must be modified is far easier said than done! The essence of leadership is the capacity to influence, and whether in politics, in business or in the civil society leaders —responsible leaders — must be convinced that the road on which humanity is currently travelling is deadly and be willing to take action to drive change now. Intellectuals, the media and the civil society must also unite in their efforts to put pressure on political and business leaders to develop institutions that are just, at both national and international levels.

 

Currently we have a number of leaders who are well aware of the danger we are in. They are working to try and manage the complexities of today’s world and societies, to cope with uncertainty and use their imagination to build the resilience necessary for our survival. But sadly, not all leaders are both responsible and active, leaving the number of responsible leaders able to guide the technological and societal transformation we need in very short supply.

 

‘Responsible’ leadership has many requirements but notably, it must account for all stakeholders affected by a decision and integrate the long-term impact of the choices made. Its challenge lies in how to handle competing claims and conflicting objectives, how to prioritise and measure them and then do this under pressure from the multiple stakeholders involved.

 

The vital competencies required to demonstrate responsible leadership behaviour in this complex ecosystem of a world we wish to change is a very long list indeed. It includes the ability to reimagine the company’s place and role in the world; to leverage the potential benefit of algorithms and digital disruption; to reduce the use, or better control of, marketing tools used to influence and manipulate consumers; to enhance corporate transparency in decision-making; to articulate clearly an ambitious, shared purpose for the firm; to work on reducing gaps (whether they be of gender, nationality, race or ethnicity); to measure, count and focus on what is important; to know how to see problems as opportunities and finally, to generate trust in order to nurture cooperation among individuals and teams. In short, the responsible leader must ‘perform and transform.’6

 

And this imperative is not confined to the Western world. Companies in Asia, too, will increasingly be compelled to play a broader role in society, to account for a full range of stakeholders whilst operating in a highly competitive landscape and still climbing the value chain. The shift to services, so visible in Organisation for EconomicCooperation and Development (OECD) countries, will also become more apparent in the region as more M&A activity and strategic alliances redesign the corporate landscape. Already we see companies capitalising on the power of data as digitisation spreads rapidly and on an ever-larger scale. Simultaneously the number of digitally savvy consumers will grow as firms thrive in this algorithm world.

Killing rivers for clean air

The Bangladeshi government has been advocating for the switch from polluting kiln-fired bricks to concrete-based ‘eco-friendly’ bricks, but there are grave concerns about the environmental and ecological damage of extracting river sands to make these bricks, leading to riverbank erosion, biodiversity losses, and pollution due to indiscriminate sand mining. Photo: Suvra Kanti Das / ZUMA Press Wire / Alamy

Fish in troubled water

The Mediterranean is the world's most overfished body of water. Current overfishing, especially of species such as red tuna and bluefin tuna, has been exacerbated by large-scale industrial fishing vessels. One solution may lie in the development of sustainable small-scale fisheries to restore the health of Mediterranean fish stocks and secure people’s livelihoods for the long term. But the issue is far too complex to be solved at once. Photo: Images & Stories / Alamy

The citizen’s expectation of more transparency from business and government will also require both business and political leaders to enhance their ability to explain to society — through education — the possible alternatives available and their long-term vision.

In such a fast-changing environment, responsible leaders will be in great demand to navigate between exploiting data pools and monetising them while avoiding the risk of a backlash from society, albeit a perhaps less vehement one than experienced in western countries. If, as McKinsey suggests7, speed and agility are in greater demand in order to manage digital disruption, the responsible leaders will have to place greater emphasis on anticipating their employees’ expectations, their wish to find a sense of purpose in their work and — despite more working from home — a thirst for social and personal connection with colleagues. Decision making which integrates ESG with rigorous, reliable and trustworthy measures8 will become an imperative.

 

THE RESPONSIBLE LEADER: IN SEARCH OF THE COMMON GOOD?

Today, as we see migration from flooding, water wars, droughts creating civil war (as in Syria) and the rising inequality and vulnerability of the poor, who pay the greatest price for climate change, we can no longer deny its impact on geopolitics.Recent research has clearly revealed the complex interdependence between political choices, business decisions and the citizen/consumer’s behaviour.

 

For example, the decarbonisation and transition to a low-carbon economy means that political decisions and regulations must take into account not only national, local and international business conditions, but also the values held by business leaders and a country’s citizens. As the research of Landier and Thesmar9 demonstrates, tomorrow’s political leaders will have to integrate the economic ‘value’ attributed by citizens into the ‘values’ they themselves hold as that value shapes the citizens’ political and consumer decisions and actions. ‘Good’ political decisions are often seen as costly by citizens and consumers, as values have an economic cost. Future economists will have to integrate this ‘values’ dimension, that is the political cost of values, into their models and as education becomes more widespread, this dimension will take on greater importance.

 

The citizen’s expectation of more transparency from business and government will also require both business and political leaders to enhance their ability to explain to society — through education — the possible alternatives available and their long-term vision. The creation of a virtuous circle between citizens, government and businesses will frequently require businesses to play a leading role here and sometimes, to initiate the process. The promotion of the circulareconomy10, the écologie intégrale11, will require significant investment in education to facilitate the citizen’s understanding of what it means for them and hopefully, win their acceptance of it.However, the search for the elusive CommonGood that can serve all stakeholders will remain a real challenge. Mishandled, it could be seen as a concentration of power among an elite of unelected CEOs12, dangerous for civil society and provoking resentment and disinterest in politics among the population. Perhaps, ultimately leading to a complete lack of confidence in the value of their votes.The challenge for business leaders, then, is to accept that the political dimension of their role is unavoidable and manage it with confidence and care. When it comes to the policy-making process they must remain close enough to policy makers to be heard and ensure they are understood. At the same time, they must remain distant enough to avoid the risk of collusion and the well documented dysfunctions of business-politics promiscuity.

 

The bottom line is the need for a high degree of integrity13 among highly principled politicians prepared to manage a new economic model that no longer privileges the invisible hand of the market but gives more power to the visible hand of a government able to administer and regulate the necessary transition towards the ecological sustainability imperative. As the dissident Harvard economist, Stephen Marglin, wrote: “Capitalism promotes the common good only when the invisible hand is controlled and enlarged by the very visible hand of the state”14. He does not believe that the current system of capitalism can resolve the problem of ecological sustainability, nor does he see regulation by carbon tariffs as effective. This implies that more direct government intervention will be necessary and, on a global basis, greater cooperation between the OECD countries and those emerging economies which need to be helped. “The emerging system from the current dynamics must answer to the needs of a generation more and more reluctant to accept an economy that threatens the life, and the means of existence of billions of people for the advantage of the billionaires only”15. The search for the CommonGood thus requires politicians and business leaders to work together with the shared ambition and goal of serving the people and caring for the society to which the enterprise is accountable. Civil society’s increased scrutiny — enhanced by digital networks — of certain lobbying practices, graft, cronyism, nepotism and so on will increase pressure on leaders to be more attentive to the management of these sensitive issues if they want to be able to sleep well.

The search for the Common Good thus requires politicians and business leaders to work together with the shared ambition and goal of serving the people and caring for the society to which the enterprise is accountable.

A TIMELY OPPORTUNITY TO DRIVE CHANGE: BUT WORDS WITHOUT ACTION?

The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of societal change. It has led us to question our lifestyles, our social links, our relationship with work, with our family, our neighbours and our urban space. It has also brought collective mental fatigue and individual depression. It has made visible issues such as our social inequality, our fragility, the interdependence of countries and technologies, the complexity of our systems, our uncertainties about the future of our relationship with nature. The subsequent pervasive pressure for change in society is having a profound impact. It has induced many more of us to question the process of globalisation; to challenge the concept of ‘progress’ and even to question several traditional societal values (marriage, family,…) and last but not least, to fear the impact of AI and digitisation on society. Several recent studies16 illustrate how the very concept of ‘democracy’ and the power of technological development to bring either equity or happiness (or even solutions to the many problems they have created) are being widely questioned. In short, the dysfunctions of the current dominant economic and societal model that has destroyed nature, nurtured corruption, increased income and gender gaps and turned a person into a ‘resource’, is being widely debated, challenged and rejected. The mega-changes we are experiencing and the questions they raise have fed the pessimism of the catastrophists and the fears of the collapsologists. They have also contributed to the emergence of nationalist, populist and totalitarian governments.

 

In such an environment, developing responsible leadership for sustainability is becoming an urgent but formidable task. On the one hand we are told that the current situation is unsustainable given the pollution of our air and our oceans, the disappearance of biodiversity, the over exploitation of natural resources, the violation of humanrights17, the growing gaps in our society, the increase in urban violence, rising social tensions, and so on. On the other hand, our leaders tell us that as prisoners of a dominant paradigm characterised by fierce (global) competition and pressure for growth, they are unable to fully eliminate the negative externalities we see today. And this despite the fact that these very forces are the ones causing further cracks in our crumbling walls. The risk of a backlash against big businesses will compound this challenge if and when it becomes necessary to impose behavioural constraints on consumer behaviour, in order to cope with the consequences of an inevitable lower growth rate plus possibly the need for frugality linked to climate change and the decarbonisation imperative. When this happens leaders will need the ‘courage’ to be even more responsible.

 

BUT WHY ARE WE IN SUCH PREDICAMENT?
Our schools and universities produce leaders. We have think tanks and thought leaders; we invest in research, we produce knowledge; we try to anticipate the future, we encourage and fund innovation. Unfortunately, there is a gap between our words and actions. The elites that run countries and corporations, and the brains who staff our institutions seem neither able to correct the dysfunctions and negative externalities of the dominant model nor to master the complexity of the planet’s problems. We have lost our compass; we have been too late in questioning the values that drive our leaders and their ecosystems (of which they claim to be prisoners). The long view is too often missing, and individualism and self-interest override the need to care for each other or aim for the Common Good. Our UN organisations seem unable to produce the appropriate regulations and apparently, lack the ability and resources to see them implemented. It seems that we are all prisoners of the wrong values, of the wrong models, of the wrong paradigm. It is as if we still believe the sun goes around the earth!

 

Addicted to growth, obsessed by profit and/orearnings per share (EPS), with our vision blurred by self-interest, we are in a high-speed train without a driver. Blowing the whistle to stop it is like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon. Where are we going? We don’t know.

 

MANAGING CHANGE: WHERE TO START AND WHERE FROM TO LEARN?

Could it come from politicians who really care about the welfare of society — the Common Good of their citizens? Or from responsible business leaders who actively engage in decarbonisation and are willing to develop and implement strategies that benefit all their stakeholders? Or perhaps from religious leaders able to inspire their communities, promote responsible behaviour and through religion reduce individual anxiety? Or from the media — if they could only put aside their usual preoccupation with their survival in a digital environment? From the unions that look after the interests of their members and protect their advantages so hardly won over generations?

 

And what about the intellectuals whom we expect to decipher the current state of society, to create knowledge in order to inspire political leaders, business leaders and public opinion? From the generous concern of NGOs, blowing whistles and promoting health, equity, protection of nature and human rights? Sadly, each of these stakeholders operates in a context where competition seems more valued than cooperation, the individual more than the community and the short over the long term. Change has to do with ‘values’: If shared values aimed at responsible behaviour geared to the Common Good of society were to become dominant, then we would privilege the ‘we’ over the ‘I’, cooperation over competition. Perhaps then we would realise that we all belong to the ‘human community’ called ‘Humanity’ for which we need to create an identity and a sense of belonging.20

Goodbye, Okjökull

About 100 people climbed for two hours on 18 August 2019 to the top of the Ok volcano in Iceland to where the Okjökull glacier once stood. With poetry, moments of silence and speeches, officials and activists bade goodbye to the country’s first glacier lost to climate change. Photo: Felipe Dana / AP Photo

A green alternative to GDP

China is pioneering a new environmental accounting framework known as Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP) which attempts to assign a monetary value to the contribution of ecosystem services to human well-being. In Pu’er City (普洱市), GEP was applied to coordinate urban development and nature conservation, and to evaluate the performance of government agency in natural conservation. It is believed that GEP can provide a more holistic assessment of national success to drive investment in environmental protection and social welfare. Photo: robertharding / Alamy

Until the recent renaissance of China, the dominant societal model was the western democratic society, often emulated by countries in the South seeking to shape their own visions of‘modernity’. But now that some OECD countriesare doubting the long-term viability of theirdominant model of individualism and hyperconsumerismand beginning to feel guilty abouttheir abuse of nature and addiction to growth, thenfinally a new paradigm, hopefully one conducive to a new ‘civilisation’, is in demand. With the Western model in decline, the Russian model almost in ruins and China with its outstanding economic achievement (the “30 Glorieuses”!) promoting its model beyond its Belt and RoadInitiative, emerging economies are searching for inspiration. With the current capitalist model seen as doomed, socialism apparently incapable of keeping its promises, the Confucian society model still being studied21 and the jury still out on the Chinese brand of communism or capitalism, the current thirst for another more appropriate model contingent to our digitalised era and a now multipolar planet is perfectly comprehensible. Some of today’s leaders possessing both imagination and vision are experimenting, taking risks and putting forward a path towards an alternative model for a just and healthy society.

 

Such leaders are engaging in the necessary paradigm shift process to build a new societal model that is ‘rational and human’22 and which fosters greater fraternity, encourages benevolence and promotes more equity. It is a mighty challenge.

The role of business schools is more vital than ever. They are where business leaders are groomed, managers ‘programmed’, senior executives enlightened, and knowledge created.

The enterprise is possibly the most obvious creator of value in society and business leaders have great resources in terms of creativity and innovation, financial means and influence. But many still appear more concerned with the bottom line (spurred on by shareholders) with growth, return on investments (ROI), EPS and the creation of goods and services targeted to capture customer expectations and create desire. However, my long experience with business leaders has taught me that it is possible — through education— to bring about the values change needed by society. Education by its very nature is a process of change. It induces change. Education is an effective path for actualising a person’s potential.

 

Education needs an early start but is also a lifelong process, particularly as job hopping becomes a regular five-year jump. The responsible leader then should invest in education, his own and others’, to actualise potential, to grow talents and nurture a learning climate within the organisation, making a fruitful use of tacit and explicit knowledge.In this context the role of business schools is more vital than ever. They are where business leaders are groomed, managers ‘programmed’, senior executives enlightened, and knowledge created.

 

Apart from teaching models of corporate growth development and bottom-line achievements that reward those who take investment risks, business schools must start to focus on alternative ways of handling the conflicting interests among the firm’s many stakeholders, and stress that the purpose of the firm is not just to make profit, but to be useful to society. This means initiating a serious debate about the purpose of the firm, the leader’s role in society, the “reasonable” size of profit and the ‘limits’ on extravagant executive compensation.

 

It should also focus on other questionable behaviours: subliminal advertising, creative tax avoidance, greenwashing, share buy-back, overexploitation of nature, pseudo energy transition and so on. Although in Southeast Asia the Friedman model appears still to have many good days ahead, we see more and more leaders going beyond corporate social responsibilities (CSR)and ESG, committing to alternative models (for example B Corp, impact investment, enterprise with purpose) and corporations engaging in implementing active decarbonisation strategies will make it possible to develop institutions that account for the competitive constraints of the market, in the context of the new ‘civilisation’ in the offing. If business aims to become the force for good it should and can be, it must accept to review its objectives and practices. Those have produced great achievements and benefits, albeit sadly tempered by dramatic negative, environmental and societal consequences.

 

Despite the temptation in the West to take a pessimistic view of the future, there is much evidence that change is taking place. This is being driven by enlightened responsible leaders23 who see responsibility not as an option, but as a categorical imperative. Developing such leaders for sustainability is a duty. Education must be the means. The matter is urgent if our house is to be saved. The fire has already started. Responsibility is the fireman and responsible leadership the water that can put out the fire. Action is the path to do so before it is too late.

The race to net-zero

The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, brought together by the World Economic Forum, shared an open letter at COP26 and called on policymakers to supercharge the net-zero and climate momentum with bold commitments, policies and actions. Signatories include CEO of Bayer, Bloomberg, HSBC, H&M Group, Deutsche Bank, IKEA and Nestlé. Photo: Colin Fisher / Alamy

CONCLUSION: LEADERSHIP FOR SUSTAINABILITY, WE HAVE NO CHOICE.

To conclude, increasingly aware of massive, entrenched inequality and its impact on the most vulnerable countries and societies, and of the dizzying array of inter-connectedness across the entire architecture of the global system, a path has finally emerged. The argument that I have developed has stressed where the responsibility for escaping our addiction to endless ‘growth’ and consumption objectives lies. In order to manage our many competing stakeholders’ demands whilst operating in a complex and uncertain environment, a paradigm shift is necessary in the thinking and behaviour of both political and business leaders. For only they have the capacity, the power and the means to internalise — through cooperation— the duty to care for every stakeholder, including ‘nature’ itself. Nature is a key stakeholder that our anthropocentric vision too often defines as a creature to be exploited by man while in fact, as the philosopher Paul Ricoeur said: “We are a creature among the creatures.”24

 

 We should be the gardener of ‘nature’— nature being like us ‘one creature in our Common House’.The pandemic is the crucible that has most recently caused the ground on which our dominant paradigm was built to tremble. It has forced us to question who and what we are, thus opening unprecedented opportunities for radical change.

 

In this process, business schools could and should play a key role in developing leaders who care for society, who are aware of the climate catastrophe, of human rights issues and the need for a paradigm shift to make business-society interdependence a lever for action. This requires us all to change our priorities, to articulate a clear vision, to define(and be driven by) a clear ‘purpose’, to challenge the dominant model and its values and to make sustainability a driving strategy force and a core investment. The leaders who walk that path must give voice to their values and to walk their talk.

 

The shift from the shareholder to the stakeholder model is long overdue. Only a business government dialogue — with perhaps different(but not necessarily antagonistic) objectives — will make it possible to develop institutions that account for the competitive constraints of the
market, in the context of the new ‘civilisation’ in the offing. If business aims to become the force for good it should and can be, it must accept to review its objectives and practices. Those have produced great achievements and benefits, albeit sadly tempered by dramatic negative, environmental and societal consequences.

 

Despite the temptation in the West to take a pessimistic view of the future, there is much
evidence that change is taking place. This is being driven by enlightened responsible leaders25 who see responsibility not as an option, but as a categorical imperative. Developing such leaders for sustainability is a duty. Education must be the means. The matter is urgent if our house is to be saved. The fire has already started. Responsibility is the fireman and responsible leadership the water that can put out the fire. Action is the path to do so before it is too late.

This is a speech delivered by Prof Henri-Claude de Bettignies at The HEAD Foundation Annual Gathering for Advisors and Fellows on 29 March 2022 in Singapore.

REFERENCES 

  1. Applebaum, A., The New Puritans, The Atlantic Monthly, October 2021, pp. 60-70 
  2. Henderson, R., (2020), Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire, New York, Public Affairs, 323p. 
  3. Leisinger, K.M. (2021), The Art of Leading, The Caux Roundtable, 241p 
  4. Mayer, C., (2018), Prosperity: Better Business Makes the Greater Good, Oxford University Press, 260p 
  5. Shrivastava, P. & Zsolnai, L., Wellbeing-oriented Organizations: Connecting Human Flourishing with Ecological Regenerations, Business Ethics, the Environment & Responsibility, 2022: 00-1-22 

PROF HENRI-CLAUDE DE BETTIGNIES

Prof Henri-Claude de Bettignies is the Aviva Chair Emeritus Professor of Leadership and Responsibility and Emeritus Professor of Asian Business and Comparative Management at INSEAD. He is also the Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Globally Responsible Leadership at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and former Director of the Euro-China Centre for Leadership and Responsibility (ECCLAR) that he created in Shanghai, at CEIBS, in 2006. Between 1988 and 2020, with a joint appointment at Stanford University (Graduate School of Business), he shared his time between Europe, California and the Asia Pacific region.

SEPTEMBER 2022 | ISSUE 10

Reorganising the Future of Work

About

Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

About

Leaders and changemakers of today face unique and complex challenges. The HEAD Foundation Digest features insights and opinions from those in the know addressing a wide range of pertinent issues that factor in a society’s development. 

Informed opinions can inspire healthy discussions and open up our imagination to new possibilities. Interested in contributing? Write to us at info@headfoundation

Stay updated on our latest announcements on events and publications

Join our mailing list

Stay updated on all the latest news and events

Join our mailing list

Stay updated on all the latest news and events