Learning our ABCs: The making of the 21st Century Leader

Learning our ABCs: The making of the 21st Century Leader

Mark McCluskey, a professor at the University of Florida, recently shared in a blog post that the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer concluded: “Although trust in business is up, the rise is tenuous.  Globally, nearly 70 percent of informed publics expect business and financial companies will revert to ‘business as usual’ after the recession.” In 2009 The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in 2009 conducted a poll that found: “More than 75% of Americans said the moral compass of corporate America is pointing in the wrong direction.”So what? Does it actually matter whether corporate leaders have values?

Until recently, we might have said, “No. Not really.” When the CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are providing shareholder results, we haven’t really cared whether or not they are using the corporate jet for short business trips. “Why not,” we would say. He’s “delivering results.”  And there-in lies the problem of the culture that created the current situation. For example, when success for Merrill Lynch or any of the other major investment firms correlated entirely with financial outcome and the ability to make quick decisions, we get what we pay for: CEOs and top executives who do whatever it takes to keep shareholders happy and bonuses astronomical. This CEO has to be efficiency-minded, execution oriented and persistent in the face of adversity in order to keep feeding the beast of “return expectations.”

So if the “current” leadership helped get us into this mess (with our support by the way), what will the “new” leadership  need to look like in order to get us out of it? Of course this new leader will still have to deliver results. In fact, with the current economic status on Wall Street, it would appear that now more than ever we need results-oriented at the top in order to turn around the current business outlook. The question then is not “What?” The question is “How?”  And more importantly, what have we learned from the current situation that can guide us in the future?

Integrity is the Bottom-Line

Why are we so eager today to vilify the American CEO? The heroes of yesterday have suddenly become villains. Everything from use of corporate assets to items on individual expense reports has become the topic of numerous talk shows, editorials and news articles. Think about it. What upsets us more than anything at this moment is that we trusted our leaders to handle our affairs, to lead their businesses, and to make investment decisions with our best interests in mind. We’re not just poorer than we were yesterday, we’re offended. In some ways we are hurt that we could have allowed this to happen. And somewhere deep in our psyche, we are also feeling guilty that we didn’t ask the right questions to begin with. We are the ones who supported these leaders from the start and now we are having to pay consequences we never expected to pay.

The CEOs of the future are going to have to be people of both intelligence and integrity. These future leaders have to focus on building confidence in the minds and spirits of their followers.  This means that the leaders that move us out of this mess will have to not only have the intelligence to focus on results, but the integrity to do it in a way that builds confidence and faith in the leader and his or her decisions. Leaders with integrity are consistent, willing to trust others and care about their well-being. They are honest and transparent in a way that allows others to see not only their decisions but the reasoning behind their decisions

Leaders with integrity also are accessible to their followers and observers. Many of the crash-and-burn leaders of recent past have been unwilling and unable to hear or act on feedback. Leaders with integrity are also skilled at what they do and are willing to be held accountable for results without blaming and complaining.

Perhaps most challenging, a leader with integrity has a self-awareness that creates a link between the leader and the reality that is experienced by customers, shareholders and employees. Contemporary CEOs will need to have a realistic view of their own strengths and weaknesses and be open to those in the process of their leadership.

There is no question that, to turn things around, some difficult and sometimes brutal business decisions will have to be made.  And ultimately, without financial profitability, the future CEOs can be the greatest people alive but have nothing to lead! These CEOs will have to deliver results with an unprecedented commitment to openness, transparency and the engagement of others.  Integrity builds confidence. And confidence will be a key to the success ..

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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