Leadership and the Bottom of the Pyramid
One of our IMBA students, Thom Feldhacker, provided the following thoughtful synthesis of leadership in light of our Asian experience. Following are his words.
Al Gini posted an entry on his blog about leadership and the pope: http://blogs.luc.edu/gsb/2014/04/14/pope-francis-on-leadership/. Upon our return from Asia, leadership has been on the minds of many in the cohort and yet it has become an even messier subject. At Quinlan, where we put an emphasis on ethical leadership, there is a point in the progression of the curriculum where what is “ethical” and what is “true leadership” seems definable and quantifiable. At least it is discussed as such in the literature. However, it is not.
On the other side of the world, away from the Vatican and the Christian world–in the Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic regions of the world, where communism, monarchies, and democracy are blended throughout the continent–leadership looks different. Pope Francis makes an interesting point that seems to carry through, indicating that authentic power and leadership involve service. Does a leader have to be a celebrity? Does a leader need to be likable? I don’t think so. The core issues of our current era, “wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, globalization, the role of women, the temptations of power,” hold true in these regions, too. In actuality, they do not seem to be unique to our time in history. The current times may show a different facet of the topics, but these issues seem timeless.
One of the lasting impressions I have from our time in Asia was from an exceptional man the IMBA cohort had the honor of meeting as a guest lecturer who shared an experience of witnessing the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1970s (http://www.history.com/topics/cultural-revolution). A profound statement (one of many) he made was a reflection upon witnessing the events. He made the realization that among the chaos of the events, what was demanded from him was cultural respect and the acknowledgement that some battles are not for everyone to fight. Though this is an extreme example, the lesson holds true for many of the cultural issues around the globe.
A local theme reiterated as we traveled the world was the desire for a better life while maintaining the core of individuals’ cultural identity. Globalization has been the business trend as companies seek untapped markets for profit growth. We should remember that it is not our job to Americanize or Modernize the rest of the world. Cultural respect, whether we call it localization or specified consumer behavior, is pivotal and an important way to lead in the service of those abroad. If Pope Francis is teaching us anything about leadership that can be applicable to business, it is to remember that business exists to fulfill a need to consumers. The best way to contribute to positive change and possibly leave a positive legacy is to view business activity in emerging markets and directed at those at the bottom-of-the-pyramid as an opportunity to help people improve their quality of life.
Other entries on this blog also examine and explicate these issues; however, no example is more extreme as that we witnessed in Cambodia. We will continue to monitor this region in particular to see if positive leadership can focus on the lives of the residents without disrupting the rich culture and fragile ecosystem.