Good leadership must address the crisis of values
by Gina Lodge, AoEC

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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.

Drucker Forum 2021

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 untenably 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.

Facing the storm

As stakeholders push the envelope on ethical credentials and Covid rides 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.

Although there is no true parallel in recent history to today’s pandemic’s shocks, the last time the world experienced a milestone of this magnitude, the global economy was plunged into freefall by 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 jeopardy caused. As Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, points out in ‘Values’, ‘The global financial crisis was as much a crisis of culture as of capital.’ For Carney, finance had lost track of its core values of fairness, integrity, prudence, and responsibility resulting in a ‘crisis of values as well as value.’

Leadership for the human imperative

Today, as we continue to grapple with the global pandemic, blame is being levelled at the world’s figureheads 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 also do so 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.

About the Author:

Gina Lodge is CEO of the Academy of Executive Coaching. She has more than 20 years’ experience in management and is an accredited executive coach.

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

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