WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A TRANSFORMATION
But we need to commit to a new way of doing business, writes Jim Dewald.
The first half of 2020 has been quite monumental. We’ve seen rail blockades, a pandemic, oil prices below zero and now global protests against racism. Make no mistake, this has been a challenging year, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel by committing to ethical leadership.
Exploring these challenges, we see a common factor. They were each predictable, to varying degrees, and failure happened by not being prepared and not acting effectively.
From Bill Gates to Hollywood and with recent pandemics such as H1N1 and SARS, the COVID pandemic was predicted countless times. Sadly, little happened. Famed historian Niall Ferguson predicts that we should expect history to repeat itself as the COVID-19 active case numbers keep going down.
In Alberta, the below zero oil prices were harsh considering the five-year slump in the energy markets. But, this was not only predictable, we actually had something to do with the current oversupply. Between 2009 and 2019, the world demand for oil increased approximately 18 per cent. Over that same period, Canada’s production went up approximately 100 per cent, and the U.S. production increased 128 per cent to become the world’s largest producer. In that context, are we surprised to see retaliation in an industry with an actual international cartel? This is one reason why Peter Lougheed urged Alberta to slow the pace of oilsands development in 2007.
Our failure in Canada to reconcile with our Indigenous communities, and protesting systemic racism poetically bookend the first half of 2020 with the February blockades and the May/
June protests. In the Canadian failure to address Indigenous relations, there have been noble efforts, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. But, where is the real change? Similarly, far too little has happened to address the systemic racism in the United States (and Canada). Black Lives Matter. Listening and learning are important, but action is essential on both fronts.
With each of these tumultuous events, I have reflected on the wisdom of American writer Neil Donald Walsch, who said, “Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that. You cannot hold onto the old all the while declaring that you want something new. The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new. There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.”
The point of Walsch’s comment is that you don’t know what the new way is, but you need to create space and commit to process and open approaches to problem-solving. Effective leadership, particularly ethical leadership, is imperative.
Facing uncertainty, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her government’s efforts were among the most effective at “flattening the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ardern combined sensitivity and empathy with among the world’s strictest limited-term isolation and kept her country to 22 deaths ( just two per million).
Nations that were most effective at handling the pandemic relied on process, ethical leadership and patience. In Europe and North America,
national deaths per million population vary from 20 to more than 800. Canada is just over 200 deaths per million. Focus on process of disciplined social distancing and self-isolation made a difference.
I also found inspiration in powerful examples of ethical leadership among our chief medical officers. Dr. Bonnie Henry from British Columbia was able to move her province from being the early epicentre of COVID-19 to become a global example of flattening the curve. The New York Times highlighted her focus on sensitivity, empathy and a complete rejection of punitive measures. As she explained, “If you tell people what they need to do and why, and give them the means to do it, most people will do what you need.” Between Alberta, under Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s leadership, and B.C. we have around 33 deaths per million, among the lowest in the western world.
This stands in contrast to leaders who create a sense of victimization. They fuel resentment and anger and identify themselves as heroes who will protect us. Sadly, this approach has worked at the ballot box, which is concerning. However, much more concerning is the message to all, especially our youth, that this form of leadership is what they should adopt because it leads to personal, not collective success.
The seeds of unrest have been documented by economists and social scientists. Robert Gordon, in The Rise and Fall of American Growth, anticipates social unrest as we enter a mature “flat” stage of growth. Integral theorist Ken Wilber studies a measured shift from egocentricity and ethnocentricity to a world-centric view of better understanding and cross-cultural harmony. Paradigm shifts occur in the shadow of dialogue, understanding and unrest, and these events are a sign of the times. The economic growth that came from the second Industrial Revolution pushed many social issues to the side because, well, everyone was growing and prospering — some more than others.
In Calgary, we are proud of our past (with good reason), and become focused on finding the new silver bullet solution; a pipeline, the Olympics, a new arena, or the Green Line. There is nothing wrong with any of these initiatives, but they are not the solution. They are not a new way.
We are now in a stage where people are focused more on addressing our problems rather than the fear of missing out on economic growth. This is a unique time where we can address our problems and transform who we are, but it won’t just happen. We all need to be engaged.
As a business-school dean, you might ask of me, “Isn’t business part of the problem?”
Let me suggest two reasons why you should care what a business-school dean thinks, (1) businesses are a bigger part of your life than you may realize, and (2) business schools can influence and help make the room needed for new ways. Business organizations are integral to our lives, and if we build more caring and empathetic business, we build better communities.
In that sense, we can make a difference, and I am committed to building a vision, indeed a reality of business leaders who truly care about communities and each and every person within those communities.
Jim Dewald is the dean of the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. On Wednesday, in collaboration with the Calgary Chamber and Calgary Foundation, the Haskayne School will host a one-hour webinar on ethical leadership in times of crisis.
Business schools can influence and help make the room needed for new ways, writes Jim Dewald.