In the subtitle of this remarkable book we find two words of obvious and momentous impact: leadership and crisis. The former is something we desperately need, and the latter is the reason that we need it. Yet, as I delved into these rich interviews and commentary, two other fundamental concepts kept coming to mind as integral to any prosperous, free, capitalist democracy: profit and courage.
Profit, though erroneously confused with greed by our system’s detractors, is nothing more nor less than the end reward for hard work and vision, which are required to convert good ideas into products or services that others find useful. The benefits of profit are broad and generous. When a company introduces a game-changing innovation after years of backbreaking labor, consumers profit because their lives are enhanced or made easier; employees profit as their wages increase and their jobs become more secure, even as growth based on profit generates new jobs; managers profit as their reputations and compensation swell; other businesses profit as employees and managers of the first company spend their extra capital; the government profits through enhanced tax revenue.
Greed, by contrast, involves taking what does not belong to you or coveting an unreasonable share of existing resources. Greed denies others. While profit creates wealth, greed usurps it. Gordon Gekko, the shady financier of Wall Street movie fame, fed anticapitalist opinion with his declaration that greed is good. But Gekko was a criminal, not a capitalist, and he got it precisely wrong.
Greed is bad; profit is good.
The second crucial term, courage, is even weightier than the first because the realization of profit is entirely dependent on courage. If profit is the reward for success in a free-market system, courage is the fuel. Without it, no private enterprise can survive beyond the earliest conceptual phase. It takes courage to risk the time and capital required to start a company, to choose and hire employees capable of helping you achieve your vision and to persevere when others urge you to quit.
Once a company becomes established and successful, the need for courageous leadership is only intensified if the success is to be sustainable. The larger a company becomes, the more complex and nuanced are the demands imposed on its leaders, especially during a crisis. Because human interactions are imperfect, even the best-run companies face crises, often without warning. And at some point in their careers just about all chief executives or board chairmen find themselves making decisions that could determine the success or failure of their enterprise.
As Mr. Levick and Mr. Slack make so clear, the great test lies not in the crisis itself but in the ways we respond. Courage is the moral commitment to keeping a company going through a life-threatening crisis, doing the right thing, and making hard choices when it would be easier and safer to do the opposite. In these pages you’ll find powerful examples of corporate leaders summoning the courage to stand by their convictions, to admit their own failings, and to respond to challenges with honesty and candor rather than secrecy. Some of these corporate leaders will already be well-known to you. Others deserve to be....
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