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George Reed
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George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

A Question of Purpose

We certainly do seem to see more examples of short-term than long-term thinking these days. Where is the leadership for the long haul; that looks over the horizon to the overall health of our organizations and the people in them instead of merely short-term gains? Why is there so much short-sightedness apparent not only on Wall Street, but in many other endeavors as well? We have seen plenty of piracy, now where is the stewardship? Is it even possible to change the culture to a more sustainable perspective? What is the role of leadership in making such profound changes?

I'm afraid this is a posting in which I have more questions than answers. At the heart of the matter, however, is a discussion that too often does not take place in the fast-paced world of modern business. It begins with serious questions about who we are and what our purpose is, and continues to deliberate the fundamental objectives of business, and whether those objectives extend beyond profit maximization alone. Such are the questions of philosophy, but they should not be the exclusive purview of philosophers. They are equally suitable, and arguably necessary, questions for accountants, marketers, financiers and managers at all levels.

It is a mistake to focus in the academy, and in our corporate preparation programs, on technical skills alone without also addressing matters of leadership and ethics. It is also a mistake for CEOs to focus on profit and loss without an eye to the corporate culture emerging around them. When we intentionally or unintentionally build systems that incentivize the short-term win to the detriment of long-term health, we should not be surprised when people act accordingly.

Let us not forget that the organizations we find ourselves in were created by humans and therefore equally alterable by humans. "That's the way it is" does not necessarily equate to, "That's the way it should be." Recognizing the tension between an existing state and a preferred future is a good first step in charting a long-term change for the better.

By George Reed

 |  September 14, 2009; 3:18 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Why does this remind me of an article I read about thoroughbred horses and recent tragedies on the track? They were bred, selected for the short-term, never intended to last longer than a few years in their brilliant racing careers. If our thinking is only for this moment, then we are rewarded with what we expect--the temporary victory.

Posted by: RebaBear | September 14, 2009 6:40 PM
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