The Modern Leader Must Be a Social Visionary

We are delighted to present the first exclusive article of Erik Korsvik Østergaard, the influential global thought-leader and speaker, author of the acclaimed book, The Responsive Leader. Enjoy the reading: 

By Erik Korsvik Østergaard

“Be the best, not in the world, but for the world” is a mantra that resonates with the modern leader, for personal, societal and business reasons. Social responsibility and especially CSR has been on the agenda for companies increasingly for the past two decades, but in the past years it has become a topic for every manager and leader, and not only for a dedicated “CSR department”.

On large scale, we have the introduction of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by UN and the 12 Global Grand Challenges described by Singularity University, which have reinforced the openness and legitimacy of working for something larger than life. It’s not uncommon for managers on C-level to ask each other at festive gatherings “so, which of the 17 goals to you work for?” For some time, it was more of an icebreaker, but now the debate takes place more often at work, in the boardrooms and in the strategy sessions. The question is: What is the modern leader’s role in this?

On small scale, we have the prominent debate of well-being at work, the seek for meaningfulness, and the increasing focus on trust, engagement, and psychological safety. Clearly there are megatrends evolving around happiness at work and stress-management, and the quest for engagement and motivation has been on the frontpages of magazines and reports for several years. The Danish union Krifa has documented twice, that meaningfulness is the largest motivator at work. Again, the question is: What is the modern leader’s role in this?

To me, social responsibility has clearly become a part of everyday life of a manager, both to ensure that we strive to solve the right problems for our customers and for the World, and to ensure that we take care of our colleagues. Both dimensions are part of modern social responsibility.

From my observations, it is increasingly becoming part of how the modern leaders focus their energy: Do you take care of your employees? Do you take care of the World? And is your business profitable? The last question is still relevant, as revenue and profit are parts of the sustainability ecosystem. As Peter Diamandis phrases it: “The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities.” It’s ok to make money; it’s just not the purpose. Simon Sinek says that “Money is a result”, to be used as a means of reinvesting back in the business to solve more problems for more people.

Creating the purpose-driven organisation

A classic way of igniting the social agenda in an organization is to describe the mission and vision as a purpose statement. Just as classic, the organizations find it really hard to translate in to daily work. One of the most criticised elements of purpose-driven organizations and leadership is that it can be very hard for employees to see how their individual actions and daily work ties in to the overall purpose or mission/vision of the company.

Referring to a study by LRN, PWC found in 2016 that “only 29% of employees in large organizations described their leadership as exhibiting an ability to ‘enlist all employees in a commitment to a shared purpose,’ compared with 38% of employees in medium-sized organizations and 42% of employees in smaller ones.”

In other words, it’s tough to scale purpose, and it’s the role of the managers to handle this by constantly asking: “Are we solving the right problem, in the right way?”, that is, do we focus on the value creation rather than the product itself, and do we treat our employees, customers, and the World properly, decently, and with dignity? This is the right and duty of the modern leader: You have a responsibility to carry.

The modern leader has a moral compass and is a role model

Those leaders who steadily recalibrate their internal moral compass to embrace employees as people, not resources, and to take care of the world they are in, small or large, they understand how to solve the right problems, in the right way, because they keep challenging what is “right”.

The modern leader uses the compass and purpose for in presentations, for motivation, for prioritisation, to say yes and no to projects and tasks, to measure progress, for evaluation and feedback, and to create identity and understanding. The point is, that the modern leader ensures that everyday actions, activities, and decisions are social responsible, in that small context too.

The modern leader is a role model.  The modern leader is ambitious and visionary, and want to “be the best, not in the world, but for the world”. THAT is modern social responsibility, on daily terms.

Download the Article at PDF Format: The Modern Leader Must Be a Social Visionary

(About the Author: Erik Korsvik Østergaard, Author of The Responsive Leader & Partner at Bloch&Østergaard)

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.