As business leaders are often driven by quarterly results and share prices, politicians are often led by votes and opinion polls. Myanmar’s democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who last week was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington D.C., is a rare exception. Her famous quote “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts that who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it” really stuck out to me. What an amazing truth and one that can be supported with tons of political examples, however I will leave that for another time.
The idea “It is not power but the fear of losing it” is also greatly applicable to any business. Over the past years, we have heard growing examples of business leaders succumbing to the pressure of short-term results rather than holding on to what is right for the company, its people, its shareholders, its customers and the communities they operate in. From financial scandals that revealed that some banks focused on astronomically increasing their own wealth and duping their own customers, to Pharma companies that pushed doctors to use drugs that were not originally intended nor tested for. The most recent example was seen when a manufacturing company ignored its safety standards, killing 258 workers in a blistering blaze.
Everywhere the combined desire of ‘getting things as quickly, cheaply and with as little hardship possible’ (with the fear of losing power) drives people to take short term decisions with little consideration of what it means for the long run. And you can’t always blame them: Football managers are being sacked after losing only 5 matches, CEO’s are fired after 4 quarters of disappointing results, political leaders are being sent home after a decision that positively impacts significant job growth for the country, leads to few job losses in their own constituency. The pressure is on! Everywhere it is about getting results fast and cheap because of the misguided belief that if we don’t get them now we can lose the opportunity to get them tomorrow.
It is human nature to sometimes take shortcuts in life, but the question is where to draw the line. When are you just taking a quick route and when are your decisions affecting long term results?
– Paul Keijzer