How would you respond if you were head of a global professional company with more than 1,400 partners, 18,500 employees and a culture built on values, trust and honor when the values were ignored, trust was broken and the organization dishonored by someone at the highest level?
The values that Marvin Bower, its longtime managing director, instilled included putting the clients’ interests above the firm’s, providing independent advice and keeping confidences. These ideas were imparted from one generation to the next, mentor to apprentice. But after Anil Kumar’s arrest [he pleaded guilty] in late 2009, Mr. Barton, who had been elected to head the firm just months earlier, decided that the honor-driven, values-based system was not enough. What the firm needed was some rules.
Powerful people do not take kindly to rules and nobody takes kindly to rules that result from someone else’s actions—especially when they impact one’s income.
Ethical people like to believe that defining values and modeling them across the organization from the top down is enough.
An exceptional CEO I worked with who detested politics believed it was enough that his senior staff couldn’t use politics to get ahead with him. What he refused to recognize was that even though the political games didn’t work on him they wreaked havoc on those below the game-players.
This is especially true in the current world where greed, whether for wealth and/or power, is epidemic and “enough” no longer has any meaning.
In a Halloween discussion With KG Charles-Harris (you should read it if you haven’t already) we talked about the possibilities of robots becoming self-willed. I said that might be an improvement over humans, but KG had a different take and it’s been stuck in my mind.
“True, but unfortunately children often absorb some of the worst traits of their parents…”
What bothers me is I don’t think that it’s true anymore for several reasons.
Children absorb traits and values from their parents/family, but they are just as likely to absorb them from the media and even more likely these days to draw them from their peers.
Kids may parrot their parents when young, but tend to move in their own direction more and more as they age and grow.
Although I know what KG means when he says “worst,” it is still a word with fluid meaning that is often dependent on one’s own values and beliefs.
This fluidity is particularly noticeable when looking at highly charged subjects, such as politics or religion, where one person’s theme is another’s anathema.
I’m also don’t really agree with Chris’ comment that the worst human trait is greed; another word whose meaning is not always what as expected.
Perhaps I’m too much of an optimist, but if (when?) robots do gain sentience I don’t see them moving in lockstep or necessarily following in our footsteps.
That hasn’t happened even with human generations, e.g., I doubt the Silent Generation saw their values reflected in the Boomers.
Actually, I think sentience, i.e, self-awareness, is a guarantee that there will be no more uniformity in a race of robots than there is in the human race.
Workers today crave more from work than just a paycheck.
They want to work for, or start, companies that contribute to the greater social good, from encouragement and time to volunteer and sanctioned participation and support in various forms of fundraising to companies who (gasp) give up some profit in the name of “doing good by doing well.”
Candidates and customers flock to companies like Toms Shoes and Warby Parker that guarantee to donate an item for every item sold.
There was a time that companies seemed to give more of a damn about their communities and employees.
Yes it was more paternalistic and I’m not suggesting a return to that, but the enshrinement of greed in the name of profit goes deeper.
Milton Friedman, his cronies and a media frenzy happened.
In 1970, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine in which he famously argued that the only “social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”
And as that mantra took hold so did the attitude that the only stakeholders that mattered were shareholders.
The belief that shareholders come first is not codified by statute. Rather, it was introduced by a handful of free-market academics in the 1970s and then picked up by business leaders and the media until it became an oft-repeated mantra in the corporate world.
Which, in turn, entrenched Wall Street’s quarter-long, short-term thinking and gave rise to the Carl Icahns of the investing world.
Friedman’s statement gave tacit approval and wide latitude to corporate raiders, leveraged buy-out firms and others to do literally anything in the name of profit and investor returns.
Lynn Stout, a professor of corporate and business law at Cornell University Law School, said these legal theories appealed to the media — the idea that shareholders were king simplified the confusing debate over the purpose of a corporation.
And we, i.e., society, accepted that attitude for half a century.
The results can be seen every day and they aren’t pretty—unless you’re part of the so-called 1% (or even the top 25%).
While there is change afoot, it begs the question—is it too little too late?
Servant leadership is experienced so rarely because of trends in the leadership environment, the scarcity of human qualities required, demands that the practice places on the practitioner, and the very nature of the practice itself.
It’s easy to spot the major traits that get in the way.
“Ego (that) makes it difficult to ‘want to serve’” (Randy Hoekstra), “greed” (Madeleine York), and “An unhealthy desire to control” (Judesther Marc).
There is more; ake a moment and read the summation, it’s short.
Next look at yourself in light of the expressed reasons preventing the spread of servant leadership.
Then look at your company’s culture and how well that culture fosters and recognizes those who practice servant leadership.
Now fix yourself, so you can become a model of servant leadership, and then fix whatever needs fixing in your culture so that that kind of leadership will naturally rise to the top of your organization.
A few thousand years ago a gentleman named Lao Tzu said it all quite elegantly in just 45 words.
As for the best leaders,
the people do not notice their existence.
The next best,
the people honor and praise.
The next, the people fear;
and the next, the people hate—
When the best leader’s work is done,
the people say, “We did it ourselves!”
I can’t think of a better mantra to build your management around.
280 profitable Fortune 500 companies collectively paid an effective federal income tax rate of 18.5 percent, about half of the statutory 35 percent corporate tax rate, while receiving $223 billion in tax subsidies. These corporations include most of the Fortune 500 companies that were consistently profitable from 2008 through 2010. Collectively they paid $250.8 billion in federal income taxes on a total of $1,352.8 billion in U.S. profits. If they had paid the statutory 35 percent tax on their profits, they would have paid an extra $223 billion.
Stashing cash overseas is a legal ploy that as a shareholder you might be inclined to applaud, but is this form of tax avoidance really better for shareholders and the company, let alone the economy?
Business is vocal about the dangers of the deficit—as long as dealing with it doesn’t impinge on them.
But you have to admit, $223 billion a year would go a long way to paying it off.
It’s grown 25 percent a year for seven consecutive years to more than 250 employees in 2010 and named one of the best US firms to work for by Accounting Magazine.
…the firm is poised to go national but the guy who founded and ran the firm for eight years is no longer leading the charge. Was that his choice? It turns out it was not. David Deeter, the founder, got bounced down the organization chart.
While that may be the kind of growth investors salivate over, it often requires a “bet the company” mentality and matching action that’s not always appreciated by others.
Employees get scared, but you, the entrepreneur, keep their heads in the clouds and you keep thinking, boy, isn’t this great? Why? Because you are having the time of your life.
And therein lies the greatest danger for entrepreneurs who wants to stay at the helm.
Entrepreneurs start with a vision and do a pretty good job communicating it to the original team or they wouldn’t have bought in.
As time goes by and the organization grows founders get “busy” and start counting on those under them to communicate their vision to the new hires.
Sometimes the vision changes and the changes aren’t communicated, so the vision shared is no longer the current vision or, worst of all, the driving force mutates into one of growing just because you can.
The article author says,
Show them you can be both an entrepreneur and a chief executive. How? Let the employees see that you put the company’s interests ahead of your ego and your own personal interests. Otherwise, the real talent will leave — or boot you out…
but you have only to look at the corporate merger and acquisition debacles of the last few decades to know that too many corporations, both public and private, are driven by CEO ego and personal interest.
The best advice is to not only stay close to your people, but also to your mirror and remember you are not a god.
Its death is the result of a culture in which money replaced values—
“Because the partnership lacks any shared cultural values or history, money becomes the core value holding the firm together,” said William Henderson, a law professor at Indiana University who studies law firms. “Money is weak glue.”
and a toxic star system.
Even as Dewey’s performance flagged, the firm doled out lavish multiyear, multimillion-dollar guarantees to its top partners and star recruits. The guarantees — there were about 100, with several over $5 million a year — created compensation obligations that the firm could not meet.
Of course, they aren’t the only law firm or other type of business to founder and sink on the rocks of unfettered growth, mergers, aggressive hiring, outsize pay packages and compensation disparity that creates an internal us vs. them mentality.
In short, 103 years down the drain.
The Dewey & LeBoeuf failure provides glaring proof of the importance of a strong shared-values culture and testimony to the mantra I evangelize—people who join for money (or perks or stock) will leave for more money (or perks or stock).
When I went looking for quotes from P. J. O’Rourke I expected a bonanza considering he is a political satirist, journalist, writer and author. I only found three worth sharing, but those three are excellent.
You certainly don’t have to be a Boomer to relate to the sentiment in this comment.
“I like to think of my behavior in the sixties as a ”learning experience.” Then again, I like to think of anything stupid I’ve done as a ”learning experience.” It makes me feel less stupid.”
All you can say about O’Rourke’s view of blame and responsibility is ‘ain’t it the truth’.
“One of the annoying things about believing in free will and individual responsibility is the difficulty of finding somebody to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it’s remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver’s license.”
Finally, O’Rourke does a spectacular job of identifying the real source of human travails throughout history.
“No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.”