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How to grow a moral economy

Sep 09 2018 06:21
Gayle Edmunds

This week, our economy entered a technical recession. However, our moral recession has long been the new normal.

Also this week, the Conscious Leadership Academy was launched. What a week for it as we all stagger under the weight of corruption in the country.

Conscious Leadership’s Brenda Kali said her experience of working in the corporate world was that it encouraged people who come together to work “to bully, loot and acquire” at the expense of each other.

Her point was amplified as, while the academy was celebrating opening its doors on Wednesday at the Regenesys Business School in Johannesburg, Steinhoff’s Markus Jooste was finally in Parliament’s hot seat.

His testimony was a masterclass in moral bankruptcy and in the squirrelly art of shirking responsibility.

As chairman emeritus of the academy, Professor Mervyn King said at the launch that the concept of the company, as created in the 19th century, has no conscience – that comes from leadership.

It is abundantly clear that there is little conscience in our private and public sector leadership.

While Jooste was exposing himself in Parliament, Crispian Olver was on radio discussing his book, How to Steal a City: The Battle for Nelson Mandela Bay. He was also lamenting the state of our moral economy and how the public purse is brazenly looted by our elected leaders to the same end – to “bully, loot and acquire”.

However, the academy gives us hope of a renewal. Penny Law of Regenesys said that business schools had come under fire for producing the wrong kind of leaders.

She asked: “Why are we not producing ethical leaders?”

She went on to explain that the idea of the conscious MBA is not “fluffy”, rather it is the essence of it. She explained that the idea of this newly crafted business degree was not only to impart knowledge – the prime purpose of the traditional MBA – but to also encourage behavioural change and a change in attitude.

This is what will drive leaders to heed the urgent imperative of the triple bottom line – profit, people and planet.

Core values

King, the global guru of corporate governance and integrated reporting, says that there are three parts to a good leader – IQ, intelligence quotient; EQ, emotional quotient; and SQ, spiritual quotient.

SQ has nothing to do with religion, Law explains, it is about finding our purpose and identifying our core values, and using these as an anchor.

The Conscious Leadership Academy is sponsored by multinational Unilever, which is trying to live the “inclusive capitalism” King advocates.

Unilever SA CEO Luc-Olivier Marquet said it was not difficult to decide to come on board, explaining that when, 107 years ago, Unilever’s founders made soap in the port of Durban, it was in an effort to help guard people against abundant diseases and improve people’s lives.

He went on to say that his company’s sustainable living plan, launched in 2010, is part of the company’s vision to continue to make the world a better place. Among a number of initiatives, Unilever has pledged that all its packaging will be reusable, recycleable or compostable by 2025.

Profit, people, planet

As Marquet points out, when it comes to balancing profit, people and planet, it is now abundantly clear for all businesses that “the cost of doing nothing is higher than the cost of doing something”.

King reminds all of us who own a home and hold a title to it that it will not belong to us forever. Rather, we are “transient caretakers”. He goes on to ask: “Are we taking care?”

This is what lies behind the concept of the Conscious Leadership Academy – to rehabilitate leaders who have lost their moral compass and equip upcoming leaders with one.

For all of us bearing witness to the effects of our greedy and venal leaders’ actions, such initiatives hold the promise of being the disruption needed to humanise our corporate, social and political space.

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