There is no ownership of the future. There is only stewardship.
Quite a few years ago there was a best selling business book that caught the attention of the more thoughtful in business and the executive ranks. The book, What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School, by Mark McCormick, founder and CEO of International Management Group (IMG) was published in 1984 and spent 21 weeks in the No. 1 spot on the New York Times best seller list. The book was full of what McCormick called “people sense” and shared his tips, experiences and insights on such non-MBA issues as sales, negotiation, reading others and yourself, and executive time management. Many of these important people topics are now part of newer MBA curricula, thanks to McCormick’s common sense approach to business success. As an alternative to the financially focused MBA business curriculums at the time, McCormick’s approach was badly needed and hit a receptive chord.
I suggest it might be time for a new approach again.
Two words jump into my mind and indicate a sea change from how business, and politics, is carried out today. The first word is STEWARDSHIP:
At this point they don’t teach “stewardship” in MBA classes (please correct me if someone out there at a business school has a mandatory class on Stewardship). According to the definition from the international standard for ISO 20121,
Stewardship is the “responsibility for sustainable development shared by all those whose actions affect environmental performance. economic activity, and social progress, reflected as both a value and a practice by individuals, organisations. communities, and competent authorities.”
That is, taking a holistic concern for all factors that impact our ability to thrive and survive on this planet. Not just quarterly returns. Not just maximising shareholder value. Not just satisfying customer wants. It’s the ability to integrate all these (and more) factors and come up with a win-win-win solution (win for the company, win for customers, win for communities, win for the environment).
Stewardship is hard work and not always popular, especially with Wall Street analysts, but in the words of Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever,“profit is not a purpose, it’s an end product. I always want a deeper result.” And Unilever is investing heavily in finding ways to make good products in a sustainable way. Plus they are big supporters of the international charity, WaterAid, bringing fresh water and sanitation to underdeveloped communities. It’s not a gift, it’s responsible business and good stewardship; the healthier and more prosperous a community, the more likelihood that they will use Unilever products.
Stewardship and sustainable business practices are the best defence against short-term business models.
The other word that comes into play when thinking about a sea change in the way politics is handled is STATESMANSHIP.
Statesmanship “is the practice of a Statesman, usually a politician or other notable public figure who has had a long and respected career in politics or government at the national and international level. Statesmanship also conveys a quality of leadership that organically brings people together and of eldership, a spirit of caring for others and for the whole.”
To me, Statesmanship is the polar opposite to politics as practiced today. To many, politics is a win-lose game where “might makes right”. Plus, it seems to be a path to power and wealth. The political behaviour of many African “elected” leaders is an extreme example, where the country’s natural resources are pillaged and sold, with much of the proceeds going to the President and his family, who all hold high government positions. The wealth of Jose Eduardo dos Santos, President of the Republic of Angola is estimated at $20 Billion, while the majority of his people live on less than $2 a day. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe “has turned once-rich Zimbabwe into his personal playground, killing most of his rivals and looting Zimbabwe for good measure. His net worth stands at $5 to $10 billion thanks to his country’s diamond deposits.”
There is also a need for greater statesmanship at all levels of global politics. The UN is pretty ineffective and dysfunctional due to countries putting personal interest above the good of the whole, and upwards of 30% of US foreign Ambassadors are political appointees with no foreign service experience, but big donors to the President’s political funds.
Words are powerful change agents. Spend some time thinking about Stewardship and Statesmanship and see how your views, and actions, shift. And let’s see if we can add these ways of being into the MBA curriculums and political party thinking.
Written and Posted by: John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
John also writes thriller novels!