The “Triple Bottom Line” and the Annihilation of Blue Chip Institutions

By Karlin Sloan

“The role the corporation needs to play in individuals’ lives the community’s life, and the world’s life is to sustain the platform upon which the corporation exists. Leaders must recognize that we live in one big system that is our planet. We can’t spoil the groundwater in one area and not expect it to show up in another area. Corporate leaders need to understand that the only way to sustain an enterprise is to  pay attention to it’s impact on the world as a whole system.” – Franklin Jonath

As the landscape of our World Economy becomes more surreal and wildly volatile, it’s time to remember the simple reasons and the simple lessons behind the annihilation of blue chip institutions like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.  We’ve got a crisis of consumer confidence, an ever-increasing deficit, waning opportunities for American workers, a shrinking pool of social security dollars, and many who’s retirement savings are reduced to a tiny portion of what they imagined. 

We’ve reached a new era in which reality is hitting us like a tank, and we’ve got to acknowledge that our individual actions have long-term consequences. When we’re not watching our portfolios shrink and our jobs go away, we might notice that this is a big wake up call that’s been coming for a long time, and the possibility for changing to a more sustainable way of living and working comes next.

There is great opportunity during large-scale change to do things differently, to start fresh, and to cultivate the positive future we envision. Three starting points are: 

  1. Get Smarter by letting go of knowing everything
  2. Get Faster by slowing down
  3. Get Better by becoming better with versus better than others

Smarter

To be smarter, we need to stop being the expert and start asking more questions. This paradox is rooted in the shift from the Information Age to the Age of Interdependence, which requires leaders to possess skills and intelligence related to connectedness.

The business environment has become more global and diverse, so leaders who can be flexible, ask questions and make connections will be smarter than those who don’t. Right now, we’re seeing the consequences of not asking questions, and not acknowledging our interconnectedness and interdependence.

If those folks who invented mortgage-backed securities had imagined the number of hands that would touch the ultimate collapse of the credit system, things might have been different. Our sense of personal responsibility for the larger picture needs to kick back in.  

Faster

The faster paradox is that we must “slow down to go fast.” Many leaders and organizations believe that going faster will give them a competitive advantage; however, slowing down will help leaders and organizations sustain in the long run and will have a positive impact on leadership effectiveness. Slowing down actually helps leaders to stay ahead of the competition because it gives them time to think and reflect, which also helps you to be smarter as a leader and, thus, more successful. This doesn’t mean slowing down the critical processes that keep your organization functioning; instead, it means slowing down our brains to engage our best creative intelligence.

Better

To be better leaders, we need to move away from trying to be better than and, instead, focus on being better with—our colleagues, vendors, customers and constituents. Leadership success depends on being smarter, faster and better with the rest of the group you lead. “Better with” leaders focus on inspiring, not dominating or controlling; to be “better with” means focusing not just on competition, but collaboration. You can’t be a better leader just for yourself; you have to think about the greater impact of your leadership.

Leaders should understand the legacy they want to leave behind—and how they plan to make it happen. “Better with” leadership is a growing trend, alongside the “triple bottom line” concept of corporate responsibility, which measures a company or organization’s impact on three levels: economic, social (community) and environmental.

Leaders and organizations who do not embrace this model will be left behind.

Karlin Sloan, MA is the CEO of Karlin Sloan & Company, a leadership development consultancy that empowers executives and their organizations to become smarter, faster, and better. She is the author of Smarter, Faster, Better; Strategies for Effective, Enduring, and Fulfilled Leadership (Jossey-Bass 2006), and the creator of The Resilience Project, a series of programs based on creating greater resilience and long-term sustainability in global organizations.

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