New Economic Models Require New Leadership Models

Chairman and Co-CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff recently declared, “Capitalism as we have known it is dead.” In making this claim, Mr. Benioff was stating that the traditional model of business economics – maximizing shareholder value is dead. Instead, he argues that we are entering a new phase of capitalism, the age of stakeholder value. In this model, shareholders are but one entity that must be acknowledged. The others are the workforce, community, and even the environment. When highly successful titans of industry make these kinds of prophetic statements, we tend to give them the weight of Biblical oratory. Members of the media frantically copy down each word for their next article or book.

However, if anyone would pay attention, millennials rejected the standard shareholder value model long ago. They went on record by refusing to be reduced to a simple unit of production. In their minds, their value cannot be measured by the revenue they produce for shareholders. How did they make this kind of bold statement? With their feet.

All their lives, older adults have reached out to millennials to encourage and nurture their dreams and aspirations. When they enter the marketplace, they expect the same kind of treatment from superiors. Unfortunately, in the workplace, managers are not trained, nor are they supposed to care for the aspirations of their subordinates. From their perspective, the primary role of the workforce is to create revenue. Plain, simple, and clear.

However, millennials reject this value system and walk. In response, they are labeled self-centered and loyal only to themselves. Unfortunately, this is the way they were raised. Frankly, I see nothing wrong with this. Their only crime is being twice as smart as their parents and grandparents when they were the same age. This should terrorize existing managers and leaders because millennials are not only asking for authentic relationships with their superiors, they fully expect it. The fact that 6 in 10 millennials are looking for a new job should be a wakeup call. Our total understanding of leadership will need to be reinvented if organizations expect to hire and retain the best millennials.

This new understanding of leadership is what Dr. Barbara Kellerman, professor of public leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, refers to as the “system of leadership.” When leadership is understood as a system, it can be designed for specific requirements. If the system says leaders are to be mentors and coaches, then specific training and feedback loops can be designed to teach leaders and managers how to be coaches and mentors. Unfortunately, when this training is provided outside the context of a designed system, it becomes a good suggestion but not a requirement. When it becomes a requirement, training is then aligned with system requirements that will establish a culture of coaching.

In my research, I discovered a small manufacturing organization that has built the principles of servant leadership into their system of leadership. Every leader, manager, production lead, and supervisor is trained to be servants and mentors to those they lead. They are called mentors. Their job is to facilitate their subordinates to find and eliminate. This begins with the President and CEO. Want to see him? He will not be at his desk. He does not have one. In fact, there are no offices in the facility at all. The company has determined that offices are a waste of space and a bottleneck to improvement and waste reduction. The CEO can only be found working directly with his staff. The result is a workforce with very low turnover and a waiting line of customers.

Leave a Reply