A wake up call to Kenyan CEOs to lead with purpose

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 00:00 | By
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There has never been a more urgent time to focus on the need for transformational governance to build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic than now. 

The pandemic and converging crisis including- the climate catastrophe, political instability, rising inequality, racial injustice, and threats to the rule of law - have shown that business can no longer be a silent actor in a system that can make or break them.

Coupled with rising expectations from stakeholders- including consumers, investors, communities, and employees- businesses are being nudged to embrace a new model of leadership, that looks beyond their short-term interests to one that is responsive to wider societal concerns.

These social concerns are encapsulated in the Sustainable Development Goals which present a unified and globally accepted action plan to eradicate extreme poverty, tackle climate change and ensure a life of dignity for all. 

With businesses called to play their part in delivering on this ambitious agenda, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and board directors, are now faced with a dual role as economic actors and protectors of public interest.

Added to their business acumen, these leaders must now develop a sustainable mind-set that acknowledges long-term commercial success is inextricably linked to a thriving society and a healthy environment.

Embracing this new style of leadership does not come easy for many CEOs and board directors.

It presents a departure from the traditional business model; where business focused on economic activities. 

However, the state of our world today demands that all actors must come together with governments to solve our most pressing challenges.

Businesses particularly have unique capabilities: as drivers of innovation, job creation and holders of capital, they are uniquely positioned to contribute to the realisation of the SDGs and just societies.

Sensing which way the wind is blowing, many forward-looking CEOs in Kenya are beginning to answer this call to lead boldly.

They possess a deep understanding that the leadership positions they hold are not only a privilege but a call to serve humanity knowing, in turn, they are safeguarding their interests.

These CEOs also understand the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action and resigning to cynicism and apathy when faced with various dilemmas is not acceptable.

They are not discouraged by the gravity of issues we face as a country. They have found their voice and often speak up in the face of injustice and poor governance.

They also acknowledge their individual voices are not enough and they encourage other CEOs to find their voice.

They possess strong moral courage and resilience to stay the course in the face of setbacks and readily make and defend decisions that may be unpopular with short-term-oriented stakeholders. 

Even in the face of opposition, they are still able to effectively articulate their long-term vision and secure buy-in for a bigger purpose.

They demonstrate high levels of empathy and authenticity when dealing with others while actively seeking to understand a wide range of views to deliver the best outcomes for all.

For many leaders, to step up to lead in unconventional ways can be intimidating and challenging.

It is important that such executives plug into a support system, where they can be encouraged and supported while working collectively with other like-minded leaders to enhance the impact of their individual actions.

The UN Global Compact was launched in the year 2000 by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, with an ambition to accelerate and scale the global collective impact of business by upholding the Ten Principles and delivering the SDGs through accountable companies;  is the home to these enlightened leaders.

Global Compact Network Kenya and Kenyans at large call on Kenyan CEOs and their respective companies to step up with courage and lead the change to address our shared challenges. —The writer is the Executive Director of Global Compact Network Kenya —[email protected]

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