Today, I’m pleased to publish the second in a series of guest posts about redefining leadership from Aron Cramer, the president and CEO of BSR. BSR (formerly Business for Social Responsibility) works with its 250 member companies to promote a more just and sustainable world, through research, consulting and industry collaborations. Aron, who’s a longtime colleague and friend, has worked all over the world on business issues ranging from labor rights in global supply chains to Internet freedoms in China to the meaning of “sustainable consumption.” Here, he writes about the importance of listening to and learning from voices at the margins.
When I was researching my book Sustainable Excellence, Nike CEO Mark Parker told me that he manages by the principle that “there are a lot of smart people in the world, and most of them don’t work for me.” And while Parker is duly proud of the people he does have at Nike, he points to a central truth: Valuable insight and knowledge is now held in more hands than at any other time in human history.
As we consider how leadership is changing, it is clear that today’s most effective leaders have the ability—and willingness—to listen to weak voices they would have considered irrelevant to their business a generation ago. Indeed, these leaders are able to see across multiple disciplines, perspectives, and geographies.
Historically, leadership used to be exercised by people (usually men) who had a corner on information, and who would speak with unshakeable authority. They were expected to have all the answers. Today, those who lead do so through their ability to find all the answers. As Stewart Brand famously said, “information wants to be free.” In a world which is drowning in data, no own can monopolize knowledge; but smart leaders can win by listening to voices that others ignore and by mining the data for fresh insights. [click to continue…]