Corporate leadership: the problem is delusion not myopia
Big companies attract much opprobrium.
Leaders are out of touch, disconnected from supply chain impacts, unaware of how executive pay awards will be regarded, and uncaring towards their ‘front line’ workers who are left unsupported and unappreciated.
A wrong headed assessment altogether.
Senior management in companies are generally pretty aware of what is going on in their businesses. They do grasp supply chain issues and they read the papers too. They genuinely often believe the cliche that “our people are our best asset”.
The problem is not myopia. It is delusion.
Delusion is far more powerful than partial stakeholder deafness or selective eyesight.
Delusion means executives know about all these issues, but are convinced they are doing a good job in tackling them. Often, of course, they are not.
Look at the results of the Accenture/UN Global Compact CEO studies for evidence.
Delusion is a much harder problem to solve than myopia.
The myopia solution argument says “just beat them over the head long enough and they will get with the programme”.
That approach has had some success. But it is a limited paradigm.
Realising and accepting that executive delusion is the real challenge is the first step towards a much more subtle approach that can yield serious results.
This is why sustainable business strategy when successful (as far as we know so far) is about many small steps leading eventually to transformation.
The breadcrumb trail of clues that executives need to follow to find their way out of delusion matters at least as much as any NGO campaign. I would argue that if you want systemic success it matters far more.
Once we recognize this, the question becomes “how do we manage senior executives out of their (sometimes) delusional state of company progress to date, and towards tackling the serious challenges they didn’t previously realise were so important?”
That’s the hardest task facing change managers, corporate activists, risk managers and corporate sustainability opportunity catalysts.
Luckily there’s an increasing body of evidence that suggests ways to make this happen. Look at the stories of the leading companies. Their rocky road to improved management and the stories within are the best guides to making effective change.
First though, understand that delusion is the biggest barrier.