Miliband’s got a point – we need to be more discerning in who we celebrate

30 09 2011

Who and what we celebrate, value and reward has a real impact on the decisions other people make and how they behave – that’s what all the research tells us.

So Miliband is right in some respects to draw attention to the problem that in public debate over the past 30 years political leaders, business leaders and business school gurus have tended to celebrate all business leaders, without necessarily distinguishing between those who have an overall positive impact on the wider world and those who don’t. This kind of talk does have a real impact on the kind of business we get and the kind of society we get.

Interestingly though, although Miliband’s been clobbered a bit for raising this in his speech this week I think he is picking up on what is already a growing trend – in our research on leadership at Ashridge, we’re seeing that more and more business leaders are recognising that they need more than commercial acumen and emotional intelligence to be effective in today’s world, they also need a strong personal commitment to making a positive contribution to the wider world through the way they go about business, and the skill to act on this.

Not only that, but they are increasingly choosing to measure themselves across a range of metrics that measure their broader contribution to society, not just the financial value they create for shareholders. This way of thinking is also starting to influence how their organisations are approaching their leadership development work.

Bringing this theme into the heart of public debate – and talking about recognising and rewarding good business through the tax system – could be a real boost to this trend. And it’s not necessarily hard to do in practice, despite the criticism Miliband’s received – think of all the work that’s gone into developing what could be appropriate metrics through the GRI process over the past decade. Bringing this nascent trend into sharper focus, paying more attention to who we celebrate, and aligning the influence of the tax system behind that, could play a valuable role in helping build the right kind of healthy prosperity for the medium and long term.