What are enlightened leaders made of?
The performative approach to management is being reexamined. This new approach is now extending beyond the financial and operational sphere to include societal and environmental dimensions. The search for profit at any cost is being challenged, with society as a whole now looking for meaning and purpose. All this is creating fertile ground for laying down an enlightened model of leadership. But what does this involve in your day-to-day working life?
One of the main challenges facing you today is reconciling profit with social and environmental impact. It’s an obstacle course that requires you to focus on both your short-term goals (which are always at the mercy of market pressures) and your long-term goals, which define your company’s usefulness to society. At the same time, you are also responsible for instilling the group momentum that will make it possible to meet these twin demands by empowering collective intelligence, agility, resilience, and openness to the world. Only enlightened leadership can meet these twin imperatives, by developing three characteristics that help to align the “I” with the group.
They communicate a purpose
Humans cannot exist without making sense of the environment in which they have to survive and grow. This is a primary need that becomes difficult to satisfy in companies where chaos pushes back the boundaries of what is possible by upending the most deeply held beliefs. Purpose-driven leaders are able to help their teams make sense of the chaos and, as a spin-off, give purpose to their work. This is the first pillar on which enlightened leadership is built.
- Inspiration: Jostein Solheim (Unilever)
The concept of purpose is very much in fashion, with the vast majority of companies embracing it to varying degrees. In fact, although defining a corporate purpose can be a highly unifying and meaningful strategic exercise — if it’s conducted properly — it is not without its pitfalls. The approach will be futile if it’s nothing more than a marketing ploy, if it is dictated by the leaders, or if, conversely, they absent themselves from the process. The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to articulate your own individual purpose and the collective purpose in a spirit of mutual personal enrichment and development. This is exactly what Jostein Solheim, former CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, did. Part of the Unilever Group since 2000, the brand had been deeply committed to the environment and social justice since it was founded in 1978. In 2010, when Ben & Jerry’s was losing ground, Unilever appointed Solheim to the helm, who was renowned for his ability to put things right in record time. Eighteen months later, Ben & Jerry’s returned to growth and its new CEO was offered a small fortune to take a job at Unilever. But it was a proposition that Solheim turned down, arguing that he had become aware of the alignment between the company’s purpose — “to make the best possible ice cream in the best possible way” — and his own, which consisted of helping others flourish in a paradoxical and ambiguous environment at the service of what really matters. To leave at that particular time would have been a betrayal of both Solheim’s company and his mission as an individual. During his presidency, Ben & Jerry’s strengthened all of its commitments, now personified in its employees who are confident that they are part of a useful (and profitable) project.
- Impact No. 1: more sustainable ambitions and renewed commitment
Companies led by enlightened leaders generally have loftier ambitions. They focus on concrete problems and are aware of the related positive and negative circumstances. Enlightened leaders are also enlightening: they contribute to building a shared purpose, helping their teams to imbue their daily missions with meaning — provided their attitude and leadership practices reflect this aspiration. And making something meaningful enables everyone to find their place in the organization and contribute to a project that is more important than they are, and thus progress on their own personal journey. It follows that there is a balance between identifying with the organization, professional development, and personal development. This is one basis for employee commitment that is so lacking in today’s organizations. Nick Craig12 argues that making work meaningful raises engagement by 93 percent compared to employees who don’t find any specific meaning in their professional activities.
They’re empathetic and inclusive
Excerpt from Business Digest N°301, November 2019