As 2022 drew to a close Fidelio attended a discussion in which Lionel Barber, former Editor of the Financial Times, explored themes from his recent book, ‘The Powerful and the Damned’. Identifying the three most powerful leaders, and the three who are damned, is a great parlour game, which also prompts questions about what constitutes powerful, as well as what constitutes damned!
While the original debate focused on politics, business leaders are frequently included amongst the most influential. It is also true that our understanding of accountability for business and business leaders is evolving. In an interview early in the New Year, the Chair of the UK's John Lewis Partnership recounted how the company’s explicit focus on purpose had originally been seen as unusual, indeed “socialist”, for a business. Now several decades later the value of purpose is much better understood by business leaders and corporate Boards are expected to take account of shareholders and stakeholders. Companies that are able to satisfy both shareholder and stakeholder expectations are likely to be more successful and influential, not least because effective stakeholder engagement is predicated upon influence and eco-systems rather than hierarchy and authority.
The ability to influence is increasingly key to business success, and essential to addressing some of society’s greatest challenges. Therefore, when drawing up the list of leaders with greatest impact, we would turn to statesmen and women who are focused on tackling seemingly intractable problems such as climate change. Fidelio also heard John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, speak in London in late 2022. While delivering the year's Fulbright Distinguished Lecture, he conveyed how tireless the nudging, cajoling and influencing needs to be in order to persuade countries to commit to a Net Zero pathway.
There may be a debate about defining power (and damnation) but Fidelio would opt for a form of leadership that serves society and business best, and that is surely collaboration and influence. Arguably the beauty of this definition of powerful leadership is that we have little choice. Complexity and the pace of change are picking up for both business and society. If we are to address major issues such as climate change and the cost-of-living crisis, the best model of “powerful” leadership has to be one of bringing parties together and constantly identifying opportunities for agreement and progress.
Fidelio is committed to developing effective leadership. If you would like to engage with Fidelio on this critical issue, please do get in touch.