I believe we’re seeing a new kind of leadership emerging.
It’s been a truism that leadership is about maximizing business results, whatever it takes. As the economist Milton Friedman depressingly put it:
The business of business is business.
He argued that a CEO who spent resources on anything that did not enhance shareholder value was failing his duties and could be fired or sued.
This kind of thinking is still incredibly prevalent in the business world and it leads to attitudes and actions that are incredibly damaging.
This is the kind of thinking that lets a corporation:
- Fire 1,000s of employees to raise stock prices temporarily.
- Engage in environmentally damaging production.
- Introduce a culture of overwork that works employees to the bone while damaging their careers, their health and their private lives.
- Confuse and cheat customers into buying as much as possible at the highest price possible, rather than helping customers buy what they need.
- Exploit workers, always paying them as little as they can get away with to make more money for their investors.
- Create toxic cultures where employees live in near-constant fear and frustration.
You may think me dystopian but these things go on daily in corporations all over the world. And ultimately executives think they are right to do these kinds of things because their only responsibility is shareholder value. They take no responsibilities to do good in the world – or even avoid doing bad.
In fact, they have been so immersed in this kind of thinking that they can do incredible harm and feel no remorse. I have seen way too many press releases where a CEO explains why she/he fired 1,000s of employees to “enhance stakeholder value” without showing even a shred of regret or emotional investment in the fact that their leadership is now harming 1000s of families.
And that is why I think we need a new kind of executive – one that is motivated primarily by doing good. Or, in other words, by increasing happiness.
And I do see a lot of these leaders. They are not perfect people but they have a clear vision of what they want in the world and rather than just maximizing shareholder value, they want to create more happiness in 4 domains:
- For themselves
- For their employees
- For their customers
- For the world
These leaders create organizations that are a force for good in the world. They lead in a way that is sustainable – not just environmentally but also economically and psychologically.
Their employees’ lives are better and happier for working there. Customers’ lives are improved by the company’s services or products. And the world is in some way a better place because this company exists.
And don’t ignore the first one: These leaders are happy themselves, because they know that their leadership is making things better, not worse.
There are many examples of these leaders in all industries and all over the world. I’ll be writing a book about them next. The ones I know of include Tony Hsieh, Richard Branson, Ben Zander, Ricardo Semler, Lars Kolind, Vineet Nayar, Thyra Frank, Rich Sheridan, Herb Kelleher, Colleen Barrett, Charlie Kim, Patch Adams, Odd Reitan, Ingvar Kamprad, Yvon Chouinard and many, many others.
Do you see more happy leadership or more if the old kind out there? What does either of them do to you?
And if you know any other happy leaders, I’d love to hear about them.