There was a time when I was clear about the meaning of leadership, in all its forms. In high school we learned about dictators, kings and queens, fascists, communists, socialists and capitalists. The word became trendy and we started hearing about servant leaders and transformational leaders which sounded great in theory. But, I dare say that even Hitler was a transformational leader – nothing was ever the same after his arrival on the scene. Transformation isn’t always positive and for the good of all.
Over my career, I have been given the opportunity to experience many types of leaders. Those that hold tightly onto undistributed information, moving quietly behind the scene with their own agenda. Those that are narcissists, the glory is never for the team. Those that are completely inept but, so afraid of looking stupid that they don’t ask questions. Those interested in quantity over quality. Those that fly around like hummingbirds on an adrenaline high, distributing Bandaids without actually fixing anything.
I have also experienced leaders that I would follow without question, ones that I admire deeply for their insight, compassion and 360° view of the world and their circle of impact. Their goals and decisions include the wisdom of all their stakeholders, not just shareholders. The wealth they build is far greater than the short-term profits reflected in quarterly reports.
I view leaders as Solutionaries and Solutionaries as leaders. My definition of the word expresses the kind of leaders I want to follow and stand beside. But, it all feels a bit murky to me now as I stand on the sidelines watching a version of a WWE event.
Mudslinging, mixed messages, incomplete data, finger pointing, hair pulling and theatrics. It’s one big free for all when the New York Times, CNN or the Skimm arrive in my newsfeed each morning. As if that’s not enough, every Tom, Dick and Mary has decided that they will jump into the fray and lead us out of this mess by offering an avalanche of free opinions via Zoom calls and webinars. Most of these offerings were old news within 48 hours but it doesn’t stop the flow.
Afterall, these selfless efforts will surely show they care and, you won’t forget them when business gets back to usual. I caution you that in many instances, the value you receive is exactly what you paid for.
It hasn’t been that many years ago that “cause marketing” was the new kid on the block. The idea was to attract customers by telling them that the business cared about global social issues.
Messaging was carefully worded to tug on the heart strings of the buyer motivating their purchases and their deep desire to help resolve a social problem. In some instances, compelling tags were attached to clothing items suggesting a portion would be donated to save the rain forest. Hotels would, and continue to, leave placards in the bathrooms suggesting that guests hang dirty towels up and use them again to reduce needless water usage, thereby helping the planet.
We felt proud knowing we were pitching in though we were not sure how. We were not privy to the operations and financials of the entities we were supporting and rarely provided any information about the direct impact of our efforts. As this trend of green washing saturated the market, savvy customers started to have the same questions that I had and continue to have.
They expressed their skepticism at a point in time when a lack of honesty and integrity was further being revealed in the C-suites of large, well-known companies. Whether it was Bernie Madoff pulling the sheep’s wool over the eyes of investors or the former Tyco CEO, Dennis Kozlowski using shareholder funds for Roman orgy parties and inflating stock values for his personal wealth, we are smarter now … transparency has become the word of the day.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen MeToo movements and a push for gender parity and women on boards. 2019 was a pivotal year. Many companies put a stake in the ground acknowledging that the welfare of employees, vendors, customers, investors and our community at large was of equal importance for any company interested in a sustainable business model – one that is in it for the long haul. Now, thanks to a global pandemic, they are being put to the test.
The applecart has been turned over and it has becoming critically clear that corporate America has a duty to step in and help in the resolution of some of humanity’s greatest challenges. The government and non-profit sectors cannot do anything without the innovation the private sector brings to the table. Even so, the apples are quickly rolling in all different directions.
Hundreds of people have jumped into the fray trying to convince us that they are holding up the wall, fingers in the dyke, for the rest of us. It smacks of the Hummingbird approach. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need one more webinar on how to use Zoom or motivate people remotely. Not one more post on how to sew masks or how to wash my hands. I have thousands of resources available. I’m having déjà vu of the conversations of yesteryear, those playing to my emotions as I navigate unchartered waters with them.
There are a lot of people telling us what to do to help our businesses with very little transparency into their own. It’s time that we tell them in no uncertain terms - Please show us by example. Inspire me as a leader walking the talk in your own business rather than just telling me how to run mine. And, I don’t just mean manufacturing companies and the hospitality business, I include every lawyer, accountant, consultant and service provider.
I’m rooting for the leaders that are drawing on the collective wisdom of all of us in an unprecedented time - the ones that are marching forward with quiet determination, more focused on the outcome than the accolades. I’m rooting for the Solutionaries.
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All rights reserved – Linda Lattimore