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Leadership Lessons from Alexander to the Ukraine

Leadership Lessons from Alexander to the Ukraine

As a student of leadership, it is impossible to observe the conflict in the Ukraine and fail to see the obvious contrast in leadership styles between the leaders of the two sides and the profound impact of those leadership styles.

In 333BC Alexander the Great led his army on the Plains of Issus against the larger and presumably more powerful Persian Army of King Darius. Before the battle commenced Alexander rode his horse up and down the line of his Macedonian soldiers speaking to them directly about the glory of their cause. Alexander then took his position at the front of the Cavalry on the right flank and led them across a river and up a bank into battle. At first it didn’t go well. Alexander retreated to then take a position personally at the front of the infantry and led them on foot into battle. Finally, he returned to his “Companions”, his elite cavalry and led their charge on horseback into the center of the Persian line, forcing the retreat of King Darius. As soon as the Persians could see that their king had retreated, they all began their retreat. Alexander was wounded on every limb of his body. Here is where the Empire and the mythology of Alexander was formed.

 Alexander is the archetype, the model of the heroic leader. Every well-educated general is taught the lessons of Alexander. Napoleon imagined himself to be like Alexander. General Patton believed he was the re-incarnation of Alexander. Each sought to replicate the love affair between leader and led, the affection and affiliation that the leader creates when he demonstrates his love for his army, and his army returns that love as we now call loyalty. The will to sacrifice, even die, for a cause is generated when the leader demonstrates his own willingness to sacrifice and speaks to his followers of the greatness of their cause. Great leaders are never distant and aloof, but always close to those who fight, if not physically, then in spirit.

I suspect these lessons are not taught in KGB school.

Many have thought that there was no possibility that the Ukrainians could defeat the much more powerful army of the Russians. But history his filled with David and Goliath stories, the weaker defeating the stronger. In every case, it is leadership and the will to win that turns the battle. In Vietnam, where I served, we had superior numbers, superior technology, superior equipment. We controlled the skies and the sea. Ho Chi Minh is quoted as saying “You will kill ten of my men for every one of yours that I kill. But it is you who will tire of it.”

There is little else one needs to know about the contrasting Russian and Ukrainian leadership styles than the image of Putin sitting at the end of a very long conference table in a gold ornate marble room with his two top generals seated all the way at the other end of the table: and the image of President Zelensky, in military clothing, visiting hospitals and speaking intimately with his soldiers and citizens. One is the picture of aristocratic alienation and aloofness, the other the picture of affection and affiliation. One is not only isolating himself from his comrades but is isolating his entire country from every other country. The other is creating affection with his comrades and is creating commitment to his cause from the majority of civilized countries.

In my course on Transformational Leadership, I offer nine principles of transformational leaders. Here’s a very quick review of just four of them in light of the current contest.

The Purpose Principle: Ukrainian soldiers and citizens have no confusion about their purpose. They are passionately committed to preserving their independence as a democratic nation. Russian troops are confused as to their own mission, many believing it was a training exercise. Desertions and retreat are not a surprising result of a lack of purpose.

The Integrity Principle: Leaders do not maintain loyalty by lying! Putin and his spokesmen have been dishonest at every stage of this conflict, claiming they were fighting Nazis and liberating Ukraine, claiming they were not going to invade and ten doing just that. It is impossible to believe anything they say. This makes negotiations extremely difficult when any settlement will have to be enforced with might and not trust.

The Unity Principle: Unity is strength. When Alexander conquered Persia he decided to wear Persian dress and married one thousand Greek soldiers to one thousand Persian women. This may seem absurd in our age, but at that time it was a powerful statement of unification. He made several top generals in the conquered army his own generals. Zelensky has done an incredible job of unifying his cause with the cause of the NATO countries and his people, who had their internal differences before, and are now completely unified in their support of their leader.

The Humility Principle: Autocratic leaders develop a belief in their own superior wisdom and judgment and dismiss those with contrary views. This is a prescription for failure, whether in the military or in business. Truly great leaders are psychologically secure enough to listen to and respect differing opinions. The spark of truth emerges from the clash of differing opinions. Humility encourages others to tell you the truth. The opposite is hubris which is very often the cause of defeat. Hubris is what caused Gen. Robert E. Lee to attack cemetery ridge at Gettysburg despite his second in command, Gen. Longstreet, an engineer who had computed the death toll that would result from the number of canons on the ridge and the length of the march in an open field. Longstreet advised that it was a mathematical certainty that their losses would be devastating. Lee didn’t listen.

The Empiricism Principle: Every good manager I have known has had a love for the facts. Much of lean management is based on a thirst for the data, analysis of the data, and respect for the data. Empiricism and is the principle of the scientific mind. It is somewhat amazing that an experienced intelligence officer as Putin was, failed to accurately gather the facts and respect those facts. There was no evidence of Nazis in control of the Ukrainian government. He apparently didn’t even know the fact that Zelensky was of Jewish background. Putin’s passion for his own vision of a restored empire was more important than a respect for the facts.

You can study the leadership of your own company through the lens of these principles and consider the lessons of history that might guide your own choices.


ESG and Principled Leadership

The Inevitable Consequence of Closed Systems

There are many uncertainties in leadership and world affairs. But there is one thing that is certain. When a leader surrounds him or herself only with those who agree, submit, or are bullied into withholding independent views, it is only a matter of time before that leader drives off a cliff of his own making. It has always been the case. The age of maturity of the human race will be an age in which no individual is empowered, on their own, to make important decisions and fall victim to the hubris of ego. The effect of this illness we now see too clearly in front of us.

Did Covid19 Kill Lean Management?

With the supply chain disruptions of the past year, a hundred container carriers anchored off Las Angeles, and near empty dealer car lots, some journalists have declared that lean management is dead! Some believe that the absence of inventory and the reliance on just-in-time supply is responsible for these disruptions.


The gains made from lean management can be seen in three buckets: first, reduced inventory costs from just-in-time delivery to an assembly plant by external suppliers; second, internal process improvement that reduces waste and the cause of errors within a manufacturing or other operation; and third, the empowerment and creativity of employees released by adhering to the principles of continuous improvement and respect-for-people.

First: The cargo ships waiting to unload are related to the reliance on external suppliers and short delivery times. The pandemic has unquestionable been a cause of these disruptions. Would massive inventory pre-delivered have solved the current problems? Only to a small degree. Due to Covid parts suppliers in China, Taiwan and Vietnam shut down operations for weeks. There is no way that enough inventory could have been pre-delivered to eliminate the resulting disruptions.

Second: At least a third of the benefits of lean management have nothing to do with delivery times by external suppliers. The benefits are within the operations. The ability of employees to study their own process and find the cause of errors and to eliminate unnecessary activity within the operation have resulted in improved reliability and initial quality of all manufactured products. These benefits are alive and well!

Third: The advantage of lean management and lean culture is derived from the profound principle of respect-for-people.  In lean operations every employee is a team member, an associated who is respected for his or her ability to keep score, to apply problem solving methods and institute improvements using the scientific method. Lean managers have the humility to understand that their employees are as capable and often more capable of studying and improving operations than they are. Humility empowers others. The manager’s job is not to know all answers, but to facilitate intelligent inquiry and analysis by team members. This results in daily improvement in operations.  

Unfortunately, many who have little knowledge of lean management believe that lean is imply the first of these three.

In my course on Lean Leadership, I have done my best to define the job of leaders in lean organizations and these practices have in no way been killed by Covid19! In my course on Team Leadership & Team Management I provide a detailed process of instituting the daily practices of Respect-for-People and Continuous Improvement, what I call Team Kata.

The following are coupons by which you can access any of my courses for the lowest possible price. I hope you will find these helpful. They are good for only the next five days.

 Designing Organizations that Empower Employees

  1. Designing the Post-Covid Hybrid Work System ($9.99)
  2. Business Strategy Execution: Agile Organization Design ($14.99)

Lean Leadership and Execution

  1. Lean Leadership Skills, Lean Culture and Lean Management ($13.99)

 4. Lean Problem-Solving for Team Members and Leaders ($10.99)

5. The Team Kata: Team Leadership & Team Management Skills (Green Belt) ($13.99)

Personal Communication and Management Skills

  1. Management Skills: New Manager Training in Essential Skills ($16.99)
  2. Giving and Receiving Feedback for Management and Leadership ($12.99)
  3. Coaching Managers & Leaders for Continuous Improvement ($10.99)
  4. Team Facilitation: The Core Skill of Great Team Leaders ($12.99)
  5. Motivation: The Science of Motivating Yourself and Your Team ($10.99)
  6. Consultative Selling Skills – Selling in the Spirit of Service ($11.99)
  7. Leading Virtual Teams ($9.99)
  8. Developing Your Team – Forming to Performing ($9.99)

Leading Corporate Culture Change

  1. Transformational Leadership & Leading Corporate Culture ($12.99)
  2. Leadership Styles and Corporate Culture ($9.99)

16. Growth Strategy – Creating Sustainable Wealth and Capital ($9.99)

Happy New Year Everyone! Let’s Make 2022 The Best Year Ever!

 Happy New Year Everyone! Let’s Make 2022 The Best Year Ever!

We are all leaving behind a year that was difficult and sometimes traumatic. I am an eternal optimist and I believe that we can make 2022 the best year of our lives – both individually and collectively. I want to offer you all or any of my courses for the lowest price I can as you plan your own learning and development for 2022. Perhaps my favorite phrase is continuous improvement, a lifelong challenge to become the best we can be.

Let me suggest two courses for your special consideration. I probably spend too much time worrying about the state of our world. My earliest books focused on principles and purpose as the cornerstone of leadership and effective culture and organization. My course on Transformational Leadership has grown in popularity over the past year and I think it is because we are all recognizing the importance of principle centered leadership. In this course I provide a roadmap for building a principle centered organization.

Another of my favorite themes is the idea of whole-systems, the importance of understanding alignment and adaption to our environment and among the different systems within the organization. If you seek to become a more effective leader in the coming year, I urge you to become a systems thinker, a practitioner of whole-systems design. It is a way of thinking that will elevate your contribution to your organization. This is the purpose of my course on Business Strategy Execution.

Use code NewYear2022 on all courses, or click on the course title, for lifetime access. And please, have a great New Year.

 Designing Organizations that Empower Employees

Lean Leadership and Execution

Personal Communication and Management Skills

Leading Corporate Culture Change


Five Capacities for Unleashing Collective Intelligence: A Team Inventory

Five Capacities for Unleashing Collective Intelligence: A Team Inventory

The following is a repost of an article by Natasha Naderi which I think is very good and very relevant to my readers. And, yes, Natasha is my daughter who is working in Beijing, China.

Natasha can be reached at natasha@emerge-global.co and her website is https://emerge-global.co/


When a group of diverse and intelligent minds comes together, amazing things can happen. Conversations can be almost magical — leading to greater innovation, the discovery of products we never imagined, and solutions to complex problems that no one could solve alone. Team decision-making creates exponential learning, unified action, greater energy and momentum, and so much more.

However, the unfortunate reality is that teams frequently fail to live up to this ideal. Have you participated in a “team decision” where only one or two people did the thinking and the rest just went along for the ride? Or maybe you’ve been in a meeting where some seemed more concerned with getting credit for ideas, rather than finding the best solution?

An HBR article by Sunstein and Hastie[1] explains how social and reputational pressures frequently lead groups to make poor and damaging decisions. In fact, in many cases, often “[g]roups do not merely fail to correct the errors of their members; they amplify them.”

Giving decision-making authority to a team can be risky.

What collective capacities need to be present in order for a higher level of innovation and wisdom to emerge? And how do we develop those capacities?

Our experience and research developing teams suggests that there are five key team capacities that need to be present for this innovation and emergence to occur. They are: 1) Compassionate Honesty; 2) Diversity of Input; 3) Independent Investigation; 4) Ideas Belong to the Group; and 5) Unified Commitment to Act.

Let’s explore why each is important and how you can develop them.

Five Capacities for Collective Intelligence


Collective intelligence requires a commitment to discovering ‘the best solution’ or ‘the truth’. Truth can only be discovered through honesty. In the absence of honesty, the best solutions and most creative ideas will remain hidden from us.

You might be wondering why “compassionate” honesty? When we hear a difficult yet honest message from someone who is uncaring and rude, it is easy to dismiss it. On the other hand, when the speaker is compassionate and caring, we are much more likely to hear what they have to say, explore that different perspective, and seek to understand even the most challenging suggestion.


Research consistently shows that diverse groups of problem solvers consistently outperform homogenous groups — even when those homogeneous groups are made up of the best and brightest individuals.

“As individuals we can accomplish only so much. We’re limited in our abilities. Our heads contain only so many neurons and axons. Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress and understanding.” [2]

Further strengthening the case for diverse teams, a 2019 McKinsey study found that that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. And in the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, the top-quartile companies outperformed those in the fourth, by 36 percent.[3]


Surprisingly, experiment after experiment, shows that humans tend to conform to the group, MORE than we tend to stand up for what we think individually. This phenomenon, known as “groupthink” has been noted as the cause of many decision-making disasters in the world, such as the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster.[4]

At times, we might conform to the group due to fear of being different. At other times, it may be that we simply have not taken the time, done the research, nor given the topic enough thought to come up with our own independent view. It is often just easier to go along with whatever others think is best.

Collective intelligence only arises when we first individually investigate the situation with our own set of data and from the lens of our own unique experience and understanding, and then come together to aggregate our collective view. This was one of the key findings in the book Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki.

“See with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others.”[5]


When our ego is attached to our ideas, we work hard to defend those ideas — even when they are wrong. When, on the other hand, we contribute those ideas to the group, it is much easier challenge them, test them, and mold them into something much better than the original.

Just as fire is used to test and refine gold, similarly, testing and challenging ideas, purifies and perfects them.

Furthermore, if we believe in a “field of consciousness”, then giving ideas to the group makes perfect sense. This concept maintains that there is field, which is a source of inspiration and creativity, and it is equally available to all. Through developing our personal consciousness, we can more readily access this field. If ideas come from a field of consciousness, then they do not belong to us, as individuals. We are merely vessels, though which these ideas travel.


Action is the most important phase of decision-making. When we act with unified conviction, we generate a powerful force that supports our collective success. Furthermore, unified action enables us to clearly see the results of our decision, so that even when the idea is imperfect, we can continuously improve our decisions and actions.

Sharing dissenting views after a decision is made, undermines the decision, weakens the team as whole, and sets up the team for failure. Decision-making is meaningless if we fail in executing those decisions.

After there has been honest consideration of all the diverse views, we sacrifice our personal preference for the sake of the group and move into action with unity and strength.

Develop Your Team’s Collective Intelligence

What signs can you look for, to see if your team possesses these capacities? How do you know when more practice is needed?

Below is a team inventory you can use to gauge how your team is doing. Simply ask your team members to rate how they are doing on each one, from a scale of 1–10, where 1= Poor and 10 = Fantastic. After everyone has individually rated, have a discussion on how you are doing and what you can practice more, to increase your collective intelligence.

Are you curious about how you can develop your team’s collective intelligence? Feel free to reach out for a pdf of this inventory and/or to explore more together.



The following courses are related to leading a team toward creative wisdom.

Team Facilitation Skills
The Growing Investment Value of Principled Leadership

The Growing Investment Value of Principled Leadership

I watch the enrollment trends of my seventeen courses and sometimes those trends prove very interesting. About a year ago I noticed a dramatic increase in enrollments in my course on Transformational Leadership. I noticed that a major source of this increase was from one of the largest accounting/consulting companies.

One of the fastest growing areas of consulting is “ESG” (Environmental, Social and Governance) consulting. Why? Because major institutional investors are now making investments based on a corporation’s ESG score. Almost every company is now reporting its activities and plans in environmental responsibility, social impact, and ethical governance. At the heart of ESG is a fundamental understanding of values, principles, ethics that guide the leaders of companies.

Since my earliest writings I have been promoting the importance of developing a strong value system in a company. All cultures are built on the strength of a value system and they all decay and decline when common values are eroded. One doesn’t have to spend too much time watching the news to see the dangers present when we lose faith in those values that create unity among a population. The lose of values, the disintegration of social unity, always precede the material/economic decline of a civilization, country or company.

I think the growing concern among corporate leaders about the dangers of social disintegration and the growing investment payoff of improved ESG performance are increasing the relevance of Transformational Leadership. It is worth your time and essential to the well-being of your company that you focus and clarify your own corporate value system and ESG performance.

ESG scores are typically based on the following:


  • Climate Impact and Strategy
  • Water and Resource Depletion
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Deforestation
  • Waste Disposal


  • Health and Safety
  • Working Conditions
  • Employee Benefits
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Human Rights
  • Impact on local communities


  • Ethical Standards
  • Board Diversity & Structure
  • Stakeholder Engagement
  • Shareholder Rights
  • Pay for Performance
  • Transparency and Disclosure
  • Anti-corruption measures
Are Tim Cook and Jamie Dimon Living in a Black and White World?

Are Tim Cook and Jamie Dimon Living in a Black and White World?

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan are rightly two of the most respected chief executives of two of our smartest companies. They are both so smart that they each announced their return-to-work policy for all their employees. Tim Cook announced that all his employees will return to work at their campus three days a week. Jamie Dimon announced that all his employees will return to their offices full-time.

When I was growing up one of the most popular TV shows was Father Knows Best. It was filmed in black and white. Mr. Anderson (Robert Young) arrived home from work every day and was met by his beautiful wife (Jane Wyatt) always wearing a dress covered by an apron to announce that dinner was ready. Of course, there was always a minor drama as one of the children had created some mess, but don’t worry…. Father always knew best.

The employees of Apple have written to Tim Cook to inform him that we are no longer filming in black and white. The social experiment forced by Covid19 have proven that the conformity of workplace routine are now filmed in Technicolor. Every employee, every team, every department in every company is different from the next and its work practice, remote, hybrid, and flexible, must be designed by the employees in that area. This is the purpose of my new course on Managing the Post-Covid Hybrid Work System. It is about flexible design, self-management, and employee responsibility.

Please read this article about the Apple decision and the employee response in Quartz. It perfectly describes why the CEO, even the smartest of them, should not be telling all the employees what their work system will look like in the future. Father doesn’t know best!

 The letter from employees to Tim Cook was written by more than 80 collaborating employees. A few quotes from the letter are instructive:

“For many of us at Apple, we have succeeded not despite working from home, but in large part because of being able to work outside the office,” the letter stated. “The last year has felt like we have truly been able to do the best work of our lives for the first time, unconstrained by the challenges that daily commutes to offices and in-person co-located offices themselves inevitably impose; all while still being able to take better care of ourselves and the people around us.”

“Over the last year we often felt not just unheard, but at times actively ignored. Messages like, “we know many of you are eager to reconnect in person with your colleagues back in the office,” with no messaging acknowledging that there are directly contradictory feelings amongst us feels dismissive and invalidating.

“We are living proof that there is no one-size-fits-all policy for people. For Inclusion and Diversity to work, we have to recognize how different we all are, and with those differences, come different needs and different ways to thrive. We feel that Apple has both the responsibility to recognize these differences, as well as the capability to fully embrace them.”

Apple employees made specific recommendation, all related to the need for a bottom design process:

  • We are formally requesting that Apple considers remote and location-flexible work decisions to be as autonomous for a team to decide as are hiring decisions.
  • We are formally requesting a company-wide recurring short survey with a clearly structured and transparent communication / feedback process at the company-wide level, organization-wide level, and team-wide level, covering topics listed below.
  • We are formally requesting a question about employee churn due to remote work be added to exit interviews.
  • We are formally requesting a transparent, clear plan of action to accommodate disabilities via onsite, offsite, remote, hybrid, or otherwise location-flexible work.
  • We are formally requesting insight into the environmental impact of returning to onsite in-person work, and how permanent remote-and-location-flexibility could offset that impact.

Whether it is the process I have defined in my course, or some other, this is a time to recognize that the children have grown up, they are capable of designing their own work system, within boundaries and to support the company’s goals.

Your Path to Self-Management – the Hybrid Organization

Your Path to Self-Management – the Hybrid Organization

Having recently completed my course on the Hybrid Organization it has occurred to me how essential it is that employees develop effective self-management skills. From the culture of control dominant in the 20th Century manufacturing organization to the knowledge-work economy of the 21st Century there has been a gradual path from top-down to bottom-up, from a culture of control to a culture of self-control and self-management. In between has been the focus on small groups, the work team, that is still the essential unit of organization.

 The pandemic lockdown of 2020 greatly accelerated that transition as most corporations are now wrestling with the design of a post-Covid organization and work practices. While some executives such as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan are insisting that employees return to the office, he may be creating a competitive disadvantage as employees report they are willing to change jobs if required to return to the old in-office requirement.

 It is very clear to me that the future will be dominated by flexible organizations with flexible (hybrid) work arrangements. But what are the key skills that will enable that organization to be successful? I think there are two and they are not about technology. First, effective team leadership and facilitation to assure rapid problem-solving and continuous improvement; second, promoting the skills of employee self-management, enabling bottom-up management of performance.

 Several surveys, including my own which you can find here, point to the belief among employees that they were more productive working from home and had higher job satisfaction. This is a benefit to all concerned.

The challenge now is to both design this hybrid/flexible organization and to increase the capability of team members to manage their own performance in a remote setting. I believe that there has been almost no attention paid by corporations to the development of self-management skills. Why not? I think the answer is that the assumption has always been that you aren’t managed by yourself, but by your manager. Hence, billions of dollars spent on management training, and none devoted to building self-management skills. I don’t know whether this will change soon, but the logic of it seems obvious to me. For this reason, I devoted about a third of my course to employee self-management skills. It is a subject on which I would love to have input and feedback.

 You can find the complete survey results here.

 The following is a checklist of sixteen self-management practices that I suggest as a self-assessment in my course. What would you add to this list? I would love to hear your suggestions.

I have a “place of work” at home that I can control and be in a “work mindset.”

I have a regular time at which I enter my “place of work.”
I have a regular “order of work” such as first read and respond to emails, then begin work on projects, etc.
I assure that my place of work is not cluttered with distractions and is in a regular order when I am finished for the day.
I know the scorecard, what and when we are to accomplish milestones, for my team.
I set my own short-term goals for my own work accomplishments.
I set my own long-term goals for my work accomplishments.
I share my goals with some family or friend who can provide encouragement.
I have some form of visual display that indicates my progress toward my goals.
If I live with family members or friends, I have reached agreements regarding the use of my time, when I can be with them and when I must be left to my work.
Breaks and exercise are essential to healthy work. I have a regular schedule to exercise (walk the dog, etc.)
I get help from a team member with whom I agree to share my work and work schedule so that I get feedback and encouragement from that team member.
I reward myself for either intermediate or long-term goal achievement.
I schedule time with my manager to receive his/her feedback and coaching.
When I receive feedback or coaching from my manager, I write down actions I can take to improve my own performance and I share those actions with my manager.
When I commit to any action to improve, I write that down and visually display a note to remind myself of that action.







The Hybrid Organization is Here and Now!

The Hybrid Organization is Here and Now!

Post Covid We Enter a New Age of Hybrid, Flexible Work System Built on Trust and Self-Management,

In the year 2020 we experienced the most massive social experiment in human history. In every company, in every country, on every continent we suddenly went from the necessity of “going to work” to the necessity of NOT going to work. There are lessons from this unintended experiment that will change our models of work forever. We are now entering an age of hybrid organizations with a flexible mix of at home and onsite work. Now we must figure out how to make this successful. That is the subject of this course.

Every organization must redesign its own work, teams and relationships to take advantage of the lessons that we can both perform much of our work from home and experience increased job satisfaction and productivity. Even the U.S. Federal Governments has accepted the new reality of hybrid organizations and is engaged in creating new rules and a new culture.

This course is based on many years of designing organizations to be self-managing. It not only addresses management’s responsibility to redesign systems and structures and management need to adopt new skills and style; but also, the employee’s responsibility to manage their own work, space and motivation and to become great team members taking ownership of their own performance. Please have a look at the free introductory lectures.

The course includes action learning assignments and recommends a blended learning model with learning teams and coaching. It also includes 30 downloadable case studies, exercises, and other resources.

The Social Responsibilities of Corporations and Their Leaders

The Social Responsibilities of Corporations and Their Leaders

The Social Responsibilities of Corporations and Their Leaders

Or, why you should not just “shut up and dribble!”

Business is not only about making money. It is about creating wealth – not merely personal wealth but the aggregate wealth of society. Peter Drucker said that business has only two functions – innovation and marketing. Innovations in technology, services and products are exactly what creates wealth.

As a leader in your business market, you are responsible for developing conscious knowledge of your larger purpose and your impact on society. From Henry Ford to Jamie Dimon our corporate leaders have taken a stand on the social issues impacting their customers and country. In each of my courses I have attempted to create a foundation in worthy purpose, and most specifically in my course on Transformational Leadership I propose a system of corporate values.

Two things happened this week that prompt my writing today. First, Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the Senate “warned” (his word) that “corporations should stay out of politics.” The irony was thick. He quickly followed up with “I am not speaking about donating to political parties, they should continue to donate.” A politician once told LeBron James, after he spoke out on a social issue that “he should just shut up and dribble!” I have some advice for Mitch McConnell. I would not advise telling LeBron James to just shut and dribble; and I would not “warn” the CEO’s of J.P. Morgan, Coca-Cola, or Delta Airlines to stay out of politics. I have worked with CEOs of major corporations for many years. To put it in simple language, these are tough guys (or gals). You simply do not “warn” them to do or not do anything. They will not react well. You might suggest, advise, ask… but not warn! The Republican party has long argued that corporations have the same rights as individual citizens to freedom of expression and to support political causes. They are, and will continue to do so.

The second thing that happened this week is that corporations and their leaders took an assertive stand on several critical social issues, in particular the issue of voting rights. Many chief executives write an annual letter to shareholders and some of these letters are expressions, not only of the past year’s performance and future business plans, but of the greater values of the corporation and its leaders. This week Jamie Dimon, CEO of J.P. Morgan-Chase published his annual letter to shareholders, and it is worth studying for its implications for the role of corporations in our society. You can download it here.

If you scroll down to page 10 of his letter, past the financial performance section, you will find an outline of what he chooses to discuss in the remaining 66 pages. I will point you particularly to the first and second section: The Corporate Citizen: The Purpose of a Corporation; and Lessons from Leadership. While it is all worth reading, let me point to a couple highlights under each.

The Corporate Citizen:

When you read Dimon’s discussion of shareholder value he makes clear that he is not just speaking of short-term profits returned to shareholders. The following are a few quotes regarding Dimon’s understanding of Corporate Citizenship:

  • “The problem with the American public’s impression of “shareholder value” is that too many people interpret it to mean short-term, rapacious profit taking – which, ironically is the last thing that leads to building real, long-term shareholder value…. A company is like a team. We must do many things well to succeed, and, ultimately, that leads to creating shareholder value.”
  • “JPMorgan Chase takes an active role in large-scale public policy issues. We are fully engaged in trying to solve some of the world’s biggest issues – climate change, poverty, economic development and racial inequality – and the accompanying features that follow describe the extensive efforts we are making.”
  • “JPMorgan Chase introduced The Path Forward in October 2020, committing $30 billion over the next five years to address the key drivers of the racial wealth divide, reduce systemic racism against Black and Latinx people, and support employees. The firm has made tangible progress to date.”

Lessons from Leadership:

I think we learn to be effective leaders by observing and modeling the behavior of other successful leaders. In my courses I attempt to present many models of highly effective leaders. It is worth hearing from this successful leader what he considers to be some key lessons currently.

  • “A good decision-making process involves having the right people in the room with all information fully shared (all too often I have seen precisely the opposite). There is also the need for constant feedback and follow-up. A bad decision-making process kills.”
  • “It is helpful to try to separate and examine actual raw data versus calculated numbers.”  (This is the equivalent in bankers’ terms of the lean principle of “go-and-see” or Go to the Gemba.)
  • “While I am fanatical about detail and multi-year analysis, it’s important to be cautious about its application… Bureaucrats can torture people with analysis, stifling innovation, new products, testing and intuition.”
  • “As companies get bigger and more complex, leaders need to be more like coaches and conductors than players. If CEOs are running a smaller business, they can literally be involved in virtually everything and make most of the decisions – they often rely on traditional command-and-control tactics. This approach does not work as companies get bigger – the CEOs simply cannot be involved in every major decision.”

There is a lot more good advice in the letter, and I recommend that you read it in its entirety. It is a good lesson in both corporate citizenship and leadership. We need all corporate leaders to be socially aware and responsible for more than their short-term financial performance, but for their contribution to the creation of the aggregate wealth of society. Do not just “shut up and dribble!”

Larry Miller

Team Leadership Curriculum & Certificaton

Essential Skills for the New Manager


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