Value for business and society – S18.2

In a recent article in Rotman Management (Spring 2018), David Kiron et al. outline five principles that corporations can follow to build a sustainable business. They developed these principles following an eight-year study and, while they identify examples of progress in line with ESG (environmental, social, governance) goals, they worry that the global increase in populist and anti-regulatory leaders seriously threatens further development.

1. Focus on issues that are material to your business.

While encouraging employees to car-pool or ride their bicycles to work might sound like a positive social and environmental initiative, it is outside the core business of the organization and will have no impact on the sustainability of the organization. Instead, businesses need to engage in activities that directly impact their processes and products: reducing paper usage, recycling waste water, increasing product life, incorporating recycled materials into their manufacturing, and so on.

2. Innovate your business model.

Too many corporations view sustainability primarily as a function of risk reduction, regulatory compliance, and building their reputation as good corporate citizens. A more effective means is to look for ways to increase market share, develop efficiencies, and take advantage of competitive advantages. For example, Kraft found that even though one of their new package designs used 28 per cent less material and required 50 per cent less energy to produce, it was the overall design that appealed to customers, leading to increased market share and enhanced customer satisfaction.

3. Build a clear business case.

The main argument here is that even when you have people within an organization tasked with identifying and implementing environmental and social initiatives, all of which may look good in a corporate CSR report, unless these initiatives create value for the organization they are a waste of resources. However, the business case does not need to come first. Many times, it takes an internal entrepreneur to identify and act upon an opportunity that may or may not in the end produce results consistent with sustainability goals.

4. Develop a compelling value creation story for investors.

In many businesses and community-based organizations and associations, it can quite difficult for stakeholders to recognize benefit from activities centered on sustainability. It is incumbent of managers and those tasked with communicating with interested parties to learn how to package the sustainability message into their more traditional performance-oriented reportage. Assuming that stakeholders will understand the importance of sustainability in remaining competitive or providing an acceptable level of service is a huge mistake.

5. Embrace collaboration within your ecosystem.

No organization at any level operates independently. Genuine sustainability can only be accomplished through collaboration across a supply chain or value chain that can include entities spanning a broad range of industries and services, as well as be geographically diverse. Successful implementation of this principle requires the clear definition of roles and responsibilities, the establishment of effective channels for communication as well as expectations around reporting, and developing an overarching system of governance for partnerships.


What part, if any, does leadership play in developing or implementing initiatives consistent with these principles? Where in the corporation/enterprise/community should/could such leadership emerge and from whom?


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Implicit followership theory – S18.1

One critique of leadership studies has been that followers are receiving inadequate attention, both as research subjects and as complex active participants in the leadership process. In response to this critique, a few scholars have attempted to carry out more follower-centric studies of leadership, sometimes referred to as followership studies.

In a recently published article (Leadership 2018, 14(1): 3-24), Jackie Ford and Nancy Harding suggest that leadership theories developed from the perspective of the followers all contain one tragic flaw. They are based on an implicit theory of followership that assumes leaders and followers serve a common purpose, and followers are for the most part passive and helpless conformers, in need of persuasion or coercion in order to take action.

Implicit theories are those we take for granted, but are often unable to fully articulate. We develop them almost unconsciously throughout our early lives, from our families, our teachers, the television shows and movies we watch, current events, and many other aspects of our culture.

Ford and Harding explore three influential approaches to leadership, in order to determine if and how the ways in which followership is conceptualized in the end serve to undermine the very theories being proposed.

Bass and Steidlmeier advocate for something they call authentic transformational leadership, whereby leaders influence followers to undergo a personal transformation through which they take on the characteristics of the leader, thus in a sense becoming leaders themselves. They differentiate between authentic and pseudo-authentic leaders based on the presence or absence of a moral foundation (whatever that might mean), but how is a follower to determine whether in fact a leader possesses that moral foundation, or is merely acting as if they do? This approach assumes that followers are empty vessels waiting to be filled by the leader, but if the leader is successful then there will no longer be any followers and hence no need for a leader.

Gronn wants to eliminate the dichotomy between leader and follower, advocating for a notion of distributed leadership in which everyone works together to carry out an organizations mission. In this approach leadership becomes a product of cooperative action, rather than an input. So, beyond eliminating the roles of leader and follower, is there still a need for a concept of leadership if it is only recognized after the fact? Further, the approach is based on the assumption that everyone in the organization shares a common vision and is willing and able to work together – a sort of state of perpetual happiness and positivity. If leadership is distributed, then to be a follower would mean that one has chosen not to participate, thereby positioning oneself as negative and destructive to the environment.

Robert Greenleaf’s theory of servant leadership retains the roles of leader and follower, but also introduces the idea of the servant, who in many ways is the genuine leader, without any reference to their position in the organization. Servants are able to respond to the needs of an organization, because they are somehow capable of moving beyond the flawed attitudes and behavior of others, to offer what is really needed to benefit the collective. These rare individuals have no desire to lead, or to be given credit. They are somehow morally superior to the unsophisticated and brutish masses around them. If the need arises they simply feel obligated to respond.

While there is much more that could be said about the three approaches, Ford and Harding suggest that they all fail to move beyond the power differential set up in traditional leadership theories in which the leader is in some way superior to, and therefore has influence over, the followers. Followers come across as fundamentally bad, or at least empty, waiting to be filled, corrected, and oriented by the leader. No attempt to alter terminology, eliminate followers, or eliminate leaders, manages to escape the bonds of this implicit theory of followership.


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Weak ties – S17.4

Read Only Connect, by Pamela Pavliscak, which examines the link between weak ties and strong relationships. The article is an interesting blend of the technical and the social.

I look forward to reading your comments.

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Servant leadership – S17.3

Read Mindvalley Authors’ article Why Servant Leadership is the Best Way to Lead Others, and share your thoughts below. Don’t forget to come back in a few days and comment on another student’s post.

I hope you enjoyed the course, and I hope you found a topic that interests you for your final essay.

I look forward to reading your comments on this post.

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Meeting humor – S17.2

Read Sarah Cooper’s 10 Tricks to Appear Smart During Meetings. While these ten items are meant to be funny, they each contain important insights into some aspect of human nature and collective human behavior. Building on what you have learned in organizational behavior, leadership, and the current course, as well as through your own life experience, comment below on one or more item, describing what you see as the insight behind the humor.

Remember to return in a few days and comment on another student’s remarks.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

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Tragedies – S17.1

Click on the title of Rob Leathern’s article Escaping the Tragedy of the Commons, and read what he has to say about overfishing and internet adblockers. Come back to this post and make a comment below on some aspect of his ideas. Then, return to this post in a couple of days to comment on a comment made by one of the other students in the class.

Your comments should reflect your thoughts on an issue raised in the article, based on your own prior learning and experience, as well as on the material we have covered in class.

If it is the first time you have replied to an article on this blog, then there will be a time delay before your comment appears, in order for me to give approval.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

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Economic development and development economics


Economic development and development economics are related concepts that refer to our efforts to understand and eradicate the economic disparities that exist between nations, as well as between regions within individual countries, and even between neighboring communities. While socioeconomic inequality has existed since the establishment of human settlements, our current understanding of these concepts emerged after World War II, primarily as a result of the American perspective that part of its post-war obligation/mission was to modernize the so-called underdeveloped nations of the world. This initiative became the mandate of the so-called Bretton Woods organizations (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and what would later be known as the World Trade Organization).

Economic development is the action of increasing the socioeconomic status of a group, as a result of the establishment of enabling policies, or through community-based initiatives. Both the mechanisms and the products of development can include such aspects as increasing…

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