Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: Squandering Time at the Tiller

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Leadership: Squandering Time at the Tiller

Article excerpt

Byline: Reg Birchfield

Shimon Peres, Israel's ninth president and an extraordinarily resilient leader, thinks the only leaders worthy of the title are individuals with "ambition for a cause greater than themselves". That's a reasonable observation. It is, however, in conflict with the motivation of most practising business leaders. The focus now is consistently on self -- usually expressed in excessive remuneration, outrageous professional fees and splendid benefits.

The point is the generous treatment with which the world's commercial and political leaders endow themselves is now the root cause of an escalating and particularly virulent global problem. Leaders fitting the Peres description are few and far between, the consequence of which is an increasingly inequitable, divided and disillusioned world.

Consider the World Economic Forum's latest Global Risks report. There are, says the Forum, three distinct constellations of risk that present "serious threats" to the world's future prosperity and security. It calls the first of these risk clusters "dystopia" -- the opposite of utopia. It's a place full of hardship and devoid of hope.

The report warns that the links between fiscal, demographic and societal risks are "signalling a dystopia future for much of humanity". Large populations of chronically unemployed youth and millions of aged individuals dependent on survival funding from over-indebted states are two critical factors. Heap onto that the dramatic shift in global wealth to an increasingly small percentage of citizens and things do look increasingly dystopian.

The forum warns that declining economic conditions now threaten existing social contracts between states and citizens, evidence of which plays out daily in every conceivable communication medium.

"In the absence of viable alternatives, this process could precipitate a downward spiral of the global economy fuelled by protectionism, nationalism and populism," it says. Many leaders have already resorted to protectionism of the personal kind which makes it difficult for the hoi polloi to know where to turn for fairness and direction.

Which takes me to the Forum's second risk grouping. It seems that the world's increasing complexity and interdependence is accompanied by a diminished capacity to manage the systems that underpin our prosperity and safety. Now there's a dichotomy, or rather a conundrum, if ever there was one. …

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