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A few months back I was sitting in the audience at the Global Competiveness Forum in Riyadh when Angel Cabrera, dean of the Thunderbird School of Management, one of the top 100 international management schools in the world, walked up to the podium.
“I owe you an apology,” he said. This caught my attention as I wondered why in the world this man from Arizona would need to apologize to global heads of states and executives from top corporations.
“I, actually myself and the deans of the top business programs, owe the world an apology for the financial crisis,” he said. Cabrera pointed out that many of the corporate leaders that got us into this mess are graduates of schools like his and other top tier institutions. His lecture went on to point out the flaws in the curriculum that could lead to this type of self-centered and short-term thinking.
As I sat there stunned and admiring his humility it occurred to me to look at the book that is touted as one of the top business texts to see if it was right. My conclusion is that the title of “Good to Great” by Jim Collins should be changed to “Good to Great to GRAVE.”
The companies that are profiled in “Good to Great” and Collins’ other book, “Built to Last,” are held up as examples of success, and we are told to emulate them. But will we? They are leading the way in layoffs, lining up for government bailouts and their stock prices have plummeted. Many of the companies recently went into bankruptcy, were taken over by the government or simply turned off their lights and locked the doors for good. Are these the companies to look at as role models of success? They were. But what went wrong? Dean Cabrera says they all have one element in common: lack of responsibility.
These companies had mastered the game of business, which is putting out quarterly targets and beating them, thus they became the darlings of Wall Street. But in the midst of this they lost sight of society and a larger responsibility than just to their shareholders.
Something different needs to happen and it is not more government oversight. It is clearly time for a new approach that includes reforming management education and creating leaders who are responsible for the actions and impact of their organizations, not just the financial results to shareholders.
In light of questionable corporate practices and the global crisis, it is time for leaders to pledge to be responsible for the life of their organizations and society at large. Borrowing from the ancient practice of the Hippocratic Oath, perhaps all leaders should take an Oath of Leadership:
• I will be competent in my skills and actions while continually striving to improve my leadership.
• I will maintain and strengthen the vision of my organization and strive to create sustainable prosperity in a way that is respectful of the environment and contributes to social growth.
• I will respect the rights and dignity of all people; I will hold accountable those employees whom I have entrusted with leadership responsibility. And I will provide opportunities for their growth.
• I will conduct myself with the highest level of integrity and take responsibility for my actions while laboring for the good of my organization, keeping myself and my leadership far from all intentional ill-doing, especially from damaging the economy, society and environment. And I will oppose all forms of corruption and exploitation.
Being a leader is honorable and requires hard work, skill, rightful behavior, accountability and responsibility. By taking this oath, you are declaring to the world that you will act as a responsible and accountable leader. By putting the oath into practice, you will be respected and make a positive contribution to your employees, shareholders and society.
I make this oath freely and upon my honor. Will you?
Tommy Weir is managing director of Kenexa Leadership Solutions. His latest publication is “The CEO Shift”