Leaders would do well to take a leaf out of Pope Francis' book on how to be a true leader by actions and not just words. He welcomes the homeless for lunch, shows infinite patience to a child running around while delivering a keynote speech and responds personally to people who contact him. Leadership is about serving others faithfully. This is known as Seva, the Sanskrit word for selfless service.
Bosses have a huge responsibility to be ethical regardless of the pressure to make money. At least that was the old school way of thinking. Good leadership comes from the top; bad leadership comes from reacting to a cacophony of discontentment from taxpayers, clients, staff or shareholders.
Poorly run companies have to be 'found out' before admitting to their mistakes. Monopolies and big business continue to overcharge us if they can get away with it and it's too easy to treat clients and staff with contempt. Sir Mike Rake, President of the CBI, has finally acknowledged that "business is suffering a crisis of confidence and business is seen as the enemy." But lip service is just not enough. Has proactive leadership become a dying art? It surely has when denial is always the first form of defence. No wonder expressions such as "customer is king" and "my word is my bond" have been sent to the iCloud recycling bin.
One of the problems is that big business and big government rely on consultants who don't 'feel' the clients or staff or look past the numbers. Last month, I found myself on a plane, next to Peter, a Change consultant who according to a recent Harvard Business Review blog, is part of a staggering $400 billion per annum consulting industry which is not properly accountable. I was curious to hear what Peter's job entailed. He informed me that he was there to make savings and bring change. I asked if that meant he implemented change in a gentle caring way. He laughed. "If the staff don't like it they can leave. The owners are only interested in their return and not how we achieve it." I was taken aback. Has big business in the 21st Century really come to this?
Every CEO needs to become an Undercover Boss. CEO's gain the most knowledge when they come down from the safety of their ivory towers. They soon discover how difficult it is to do business with their company, how well or badly they treat their staff and how hard it is to complain. If on the other hand, leaders and their directors go literally undercover, then such anonymity filters down negatively to their staff, the lifeblood of the company. Why should staff go the extra mile if their leaders do not demonstrate active leadership?
If all else fails, perhaps governments should enshrine in law a Customer Service Charter enforcing CEO's of PLC's and monopolies to personally sign off and deal with complaints. If the government wants to be popular, here's a sure way to achieve it - force CEO's to experience first hand what the customers are feeling.
Out of darkness comes light
Luckily all is not lost. Even Michael O'Reilly, boss of Ryanair, has supposedly declared a new love for his clients. I have experienced firsthand how annoying the Ryanair website is - it's a miracle that any of us go back. It's no mean feat to buy a ticket without including insurance, a lifejacket, a mobile phone or even a new suitcase. I'm not sure why some leaders take so long to recognise that hacking off your clients may not be the smartest way to do business.
Then there's Malcolm Walker, Chairman of Iceland Foods, featured on the BBC programme 'Life in the Freezer Cabinet' . Here's a boss who leads from the front, who cares less about his own image and more about his staff and clients. He demonstrates that supporting clients and staff is the number one reason for business success. Such leaders make sure that we understand what we are buying and that the product arrives on time and as described. If a problem arises we can talk to a person with knowledge who can help us, rather than a machine or a person that responds like a machine!
Great leaders do not take the blind path of ignorance and are not afraid to do the right thing: To lead by example with conviction, visibility and honour. Albert Einstein remarked: "Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either."
It seems that religious leaders and eminent scientists can give valuable lessons to business leaders who need to rediscover the art of leadership.
David Green's new book, The Invisible Hand: Business, Success & Spirituality illustrates how material success can be achieved with a spiritual attitude. www.the-invisiblehand.com