27 January 2013

Davos man and humility

While the Davos summit has always been criticised by many for the wrong reasons, the Economist (one of the most active participants in Davos) has a biting piece on the Davos Man (yes it is a Man) and somewhat critical of the World Economic Forum itself. And there is a critical part on the admittedly pompously titled people 'Young Global Leader' of which I am a not-so-humble part. 
So there is clearly a need for global leadership. But when the public look at what is on offer, they are not impressed. Many of the bankers and politicians caught dozing by the financial crisis were regulars at Davos. Ordinary folk trust Davos Man no more than they would a lobbyist for the Worldwide Federation of Weasels. A survey by Edelman, a public-relations firm, finds that only 18% of people trust business leaders to tell the truth. For political leaders, the figure is 13%.
What can be done? Much of the answer lies in giving the little guys better tools to keep Davos Man in check: stricter accountability for government leaders, sounder regulations to curb corporate abuses. But there is also a case for reforming the global-leadership industry. The people who run it need to think hard about what they mean by both globalisation and leadership.
 World leaders with wings of wax
But there is still a flaw with the very notion of global leadership. Abraham Lincoln observed that “nearly all men can stand adversity but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Similar temptations afflict those who are given the title of “young global leader”. Clever businesspeople have a tendency to be arrogant at the best of the times; telling them that they are masters of the universe can only magnify it. Arrogance breeds mistakes: look at all the empire-building bosses who attempt ambitious mergers despite ample evidence that such mergers usually fail. If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know. He listens: not only to the other bigwigs in Davos, but also to the kind of people who don’t get invited, such as his customers.

I agree, the WEF must be more inclusive and just getting some charities, NGOs and academicians doesn't make it that much more inclusive. The canvas must be larger. 

Besides attendance fees need to be rationalised - something I complained of a few months back for their India summit which was made 5X more expensive this year than last from an already prohibitively expensive level. That is surely not a recipe for inclusiveness.

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