On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Ed O'Malley

Ed O'Malley

A former state legislator and gubernatorial aide, Ed O’Malley is President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, a first-of-its-kind training center charged with fostering large-scale civic leadership for healthier communities. He tweets at eomalley.

Too many chicken dinners

Remember what it feels like to be a kid with money burning a hole in your pocket? Your grandpa gave you $10 and because you had it, your purpose was to spend it. Most likely, you spent it on something you didn't need or, in retrospect, even want. Your purchase wasn't connected to any larger thinking. I imagine corporate philanthropy can play out the same way if executives are not careful.

Corporate philanthropy should be a vehicle not a purpose, a strategy not a goal, a method not an end in itself.

For corporations to be relevant in promoting social good, they should start with this question: "What would it look like for our company to exercise civic leadership?" Civic leadership, or leadership for the common good, is in short supply in America, and we need more of it from everyone - government officials, non-profit executives, everyday citizens, religious officials, moms, dads, young people and business folks.

There is civic leadership across America today, if you know where to look for it, and the stories are heartwarming but insufficient. More progress must be made on the issues that concern Americans the most - health, education, the economy, etc. And, more progress will require more civic leadership from all of us, including corporations.

Here are some ideas of what civic leadership from a corporation might look like:

· A clear civic purpose. Much like the need for a core business purpose, a corporation wanting to benefit their community needs a well-articulated civic leadership purpose (e.g. to decrease inequality of opportunity in our community or to inspire entrepreneurship in the non-profit and government sectors.)

· Priorities in order. When working toward the betterment of community, there must be a focus on the social good before the corporate good. We all know some corporations are involved in giving because it helps their bottom line. Ideally, the bottom line, when it comes to civic engagement and civic leadership, would be a secondary objective. Should corporations put altruism above capitalism? No. But, if they engage in civic leadership, they should do so for the right reasons.

· Multi-faceted strategy. Corporations should realize their wealth (those that have it) is only one arrow in their quiver. A good civic leadership effort should include other strategies such as the power to convene, using their expertise in measuring results and deploying employees as resources to civic life.

Want to know if your company is on the wrong track? Here is a clue:

· Too many chicken dinners. Sponsoring not-for-profit annual dinners and other fundraising luncheons and dinners are worthy efforts, but are not necessarily civic leadership. Your company is really on the wrong track if it can't even fill its table at said chicken dinners!

Corporations should see philanthropy as just part of their civic leadership efforts. Focusing only on philanthropy can distract a company away from bigger thinking needed to exercise civic leadership.

By Ed O'Malley

 |  November 17, 2009; 6:44 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: 'So long, sucker' | Next: The biggest dollars


Please report offensive comments below.

America Leader In Exports

The business plan of American companies to export American jobs overseas began in 2002 and over 2 millions jobs have now been exported.

No other country in the world comes close to our lead in this area of exporting.

With every job in America that involves sitting in an office and using a computer and a telephone as a candidate for export overseas, America will remain a leader for many years in this new area of exporting.

Nothing will stop this new American leadership and dominance in the global economy.

Posted by: bsallamack | November 18, 2009 6:48 PM
Report Offensive Comment

In my community, the corporations have been exporting jobs as well as expecting the remaining workers to labor extra hours without recompense.

They would help the community more by revising their philosophy and employing more Americans at a decent living wage. Then these other problems you mention, "health, education, the economy, etc" will solve themselves.

Fundraising luncheons to alleviate problems that they themselves helped bring about in the name of profit is just a self-serving marketing ploy.

Posted by: shadowmagician | November 18, 2009 9:43 AM
Report Offensive Comment

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company