The New Entrepreneurial Leader highlights the questions that arise when leaders begin to integrate social, environmental, and economic value creation (which we will refer to as SEERS). Here are two examples:
In the 1990s, when managers at Hewlett-Packard (HP) recognized that the soldering lead used in the company’s manufacturing process was toxic, they voluntarily initiated R&D projects to develop nontoxic, nontarnishing, and nonoxidizing alternatives. In 2006, when the European Union passed the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive, HP was in compliance; this earned good will from regulators that resulted in a voice in future regulation of the industry, and it opened European markets for new services from HP (see here for more).
Here’s another real-world example: In 2004, Costco Wholesale beat Wall Street’s expectations, posting a 25 percent profit and 14 percent sales growth. The market responded with a 4 percent decline in Costco’s stock price because analysts were concerned about Costco’s strategy of paying high wages relative to its competitor, Wal-Mart. Costco paid its workers well and achieved lower employee turnover, higher sales per square foot, and lower wages per dollar of sales than Wal-Mart did, yet Wall Street didn’t appreciate Costco’s human resource strategy and failed to reward it for its socially and economically responsible approach to employee compensation (see here for more).
Why did these companies, both of which embarked on voluntary social and environmental activities, experience different reactions to their laudable efforts? It is because the links among these three components are not always direct. Social and environmental sustainability may yield economic sustainability, but there is no straight line connecting social and environmental efforts to cost savings, higher profitability, or favorable stock market responses, as the Costco story illustrates.
With this in mind, my discussion with Bob Turner aims to offer business leaders a better sense of the practical role accounting can (and can’t) play in organizations eager to pursue a more comprehensive approach to value creation, one that includes more than simply economic profit and loss.
In our book, Nan Langowitz contributes key insights on the fundamental role of self-awareness in the development of entrepreneurial leaders and their competencies. Consider, for instance, Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric (GE):
He has newly refocused on what he describes as becoming “self-reflective on steroids.” Immelt views his approach, and the one he hopes other leaders at GE will adopt, as a means to promote greater innovation to drive GE’s performance. While most entrepreneurial leaders do not have the high-profile role of an Immelt, each has unique strengths and challenges as well as passions, values, and skills that he or she needs to understand and engage to drive opportunities.
Jay Rao is a colleague who’s worked to solve thorny innovation problems with thousands of corporate practitioners over the years. He was also a key contributor to the book, and helped push our thinking around how entrepreneurial leaders address business uncertainty.
As Jay points out in the book:
Since innovation work is done in an unknowable environment, it demands that an entrepreneurial leader engage a cognitively ambidextrous mindset in which one cycles between a creation approach of acting and a prediction approach of learning from the data that are created during the action. Innovation occurs as entrepreneurial leaders start small with the resources at hand and rapidly create prototypes to generate new data and new ideas. They are able to minimize risk by failing fast and cheaply, learning quickly, and rapidly changing directions when reality does not match assumptions. Using their cognitively ambidextrous mindset, entrepreneurial leaders experiment, succeed, fail, and learn.
Today’s vastly complex, globalized, and fast-evolving world requires a different kind of leadership. The New Entrepreneurial Leader is a game-changing book that details a new approach—entrepreneurial leadership—developed at Babson College, the No. 1 school for entrepreneurship in the world. It embraces three principles that add up to a fundamentally new world view of business and a new logic of decision making. Here, the authors discuss its importance in revitalizing business management education.