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Greed is (not) good. Here's a better capitalism.


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The first perspective is the “Of course” perspective: Of course we need to turn a profit, much as we need food, air, and water to stay alive – we must generate a profit to reward employees (and shareholders) and surely to keep the lights on and the wheels turning. This is the no-brainer piece of the equation. But focusing on that as the endgame of business is like believing we live in order to breathe air rather than the other way around. It is myopic, just plain stupid. We may have gotten away with such myopia in a different time but not anymore.

The second and most important perspective is the “byproduct” perspective: Profit is a natural byproduct of business well-done and done for the right reasons. As Green says, “It is the byproduct and hallmark of success.” In the TL approach, business well-done is 1) the achievement of thoroughgoing organizational excellence, which is the result of 2) the systematic, rigorous development, professionally and personally, of the organization’s people, leaders, and followers.

And here’s what is curious to some (though quite reasonable to others). When this method is wisely and thoroughly implemented, profits soar. In fact, when all other things are equal, this approach has the peculiar tendency to run circles around its more traditional (transactional) competition. Employee and customer satisfaction improves and so does profitability. Just ask Southwest Airlines in the US, which practices a version of the transforming approach and recently completed its 39th straight year of profitability! (At some point you’d think that United, American, US Airways, and Delta would start asking why this might be so.) Or ask retail powerhouse John Lewis in the UK – whose commitment to customer service and the well-being of its employees is legendary. These are just two examples of an excellence-driven, people-centric approach.

But lest you suppose that the transformative approach is a thorn-less bed of roses, I should also point out that this leadership model is far more demanding and rigorous than old-world profit-is-everything models. It is arguably the single most demanding approach to leading ever instituted. It expects that the leaders not only systematically invest in the growth of their people – body and soul, as it were – but it also requires that they (with the support of their colleagues and their bosses) actively grow themselves in meaningful ways.

Far from being some softheaded, "Kumbaya," handholding approach lifted from a bad '60s joke, it’s a sometimes-in-your-face method that places a premium on unvarnished truth-telling, deep commitment, and tough-minded caring. Because of these core demands, to be sure, it is not for everyone, surely not for the faint of heart.

But for those who have a greatness of spirit that awaits expression, and for those who hunger to achieve the extraordinary – or in the words of Steve Jobs, those who long to put their own “dent in the universe” – it’s an approach to leadership whose time has come. And not a minute too soon. The time for proclaiming yesterday’s dogma is over.

– Cleve W. Stevens, a social ethicist and leadership development consultant, is president of Owl Sight Intentions in Los Angeles and author of a new book, "The Best in Us: People, Profit, and the Remaking of Modern Leadership."


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