Written by Patrick Briody, Institute for mindful leadership
Is there a way to meet business challenges that not only addresses the bottom line, but is also good for employees and the communities we live in? Does doing good business mean we need to accept trade-offs that put consideration of the people we work with and the broader environment in the “too hard” column? Perhaps not.
In the tragic and bewildering aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the airline industry faced tremendous challenges and difficult decisions. Many airlines in the U.S. cut staff and pay and adopted, understandably enough, somewhat of a survivalist stance. Southwest Airlines, faced with the same challenges, made some very different decisions. The airline did not layoff staff, or reduce pay, and it allowed customers who wanted refunds to have them without conditions. In the years following the attacks, while Southwest’s competitors saw losses in the billions of dollars, Southwest made profits each year. The company’s remarkable financial success since that period continues to be the focus of numerous studies and books.
Forty years earlier, Volvo’s first safety engineer, Nils Bohlin, invented perhaps the most significant automobile safety device to date – the three point safety belt. Rather than holding on to this invention for itself, Volvo made the surprising decision to open the patent for the device to all car manufacturers. By accelerating this revolution in transportation safety, Volvo’s name became synonymous with “safety”; analysts credit this, at least in part, to Volvo’s tremendous growth as a global brand in the following decades.
In 2004, a new financial firm, Generation Investment Management, was founded, basing its entire profitability strategy on “sustainable capitalism”; they invest only in companies they deem to have a business model that is sustainable taking into account the environment, social welfare, and other long term considerations. Rather than positioning sustainability as a “nice to have” that is subordinate to short term profitability concerns, they’ve bet the farm on this unique long term investment strategy. The result is that they have out-performed most other fund managers and the broader market over the last decade.
If we look across these tremendously successful companies we can see a consistent theme. Each has established cultures that reward decisions based on what, we at the Institute call the “win-win-win”: Doing what is right for the company, for those working in the company, and for the wider community. While it may be easier to find numerous, logical reasons to hoard discoveries, let fear be our guide, or focus almost exclusively on short term gain, the individuals in these companies showed what can happen when we look for opportunities to solve challenges in ways that spread benefit more broadly.
While we may not all be in positions of great influence at large corporations, we can still contribute in some way to win-win-win solutions. By cultivating the four fundamentals of mindful leadership: focus, clarity, creativity and compassion, we are developing our innate capabilities to break free of the kind of narrow, constrained, automatic thought patterns that can so easily take hold when faced with a stressful situation. Decisions we make that are grounded in open and compassionate leadership are bound to ripple out, influencing those around us and setting the momentum for more win-win-win decisions in the future.