Recently, Center for Higher Ambition Leadership’s Russ Eisenstat and Mike Beer sat down to dissect the meaning, impact, and evolution of higher ambition with hosts Katherine Klein and Jacob Gray on Wharton’s Business Radio on SiriusXM. The show, Dollars and Change, highlights individuals and organizations using their business acumen to change lives. It provided a nationwide platform to discuss The Center’s work.
Mike set the stage as he defined higher ambition and how it differs from philanthropy. He highlighted that a higher ambition leader articulates a purpose that goes well beyond shareholder value. It is a mindset that emphasizes the value of each individual employee, customer, community, and supplier to the enterprise. Purpose builds trust and commitment, thereby enabling the organization to be more competitive. This approach to business opens up the solution space, often revealing powerful strategic insights and enabling the company to create both social and financial value.
Mike and Russ also emphasized that higher ambition is not a radical or a new idea. Hewlett Packard and Southwest were discussed as corporate examples that were created according to higher ambition principles. At Hewlett Packard, Founder David Packard listed as the company’s primary purpose, contribution to society. He felt an obligation to create an avenue to make the world better. Financial success followed. Russ highlighted that Southwest’s success has resulted not just from a sound business strategy and great execution, but also from its commitment to, and investment in its people.
They also highlighted that there is considerable evidence that companies that create a positive internal culture and emphasize adult-to-adult relationships built on trust, do better financially. They also spoke of the benefit of integrating the human condition into the equation: Giving voice to both employees and customers helps avoid rash decisions that ultimately have a negative effect on the extended enterprise that includes communities as stakeholders.
When Mike and Russ were asked about how to avoid corporate “window dressing”, the answer, to them, was actually quite simple. Create a culture that reinforces higher ambition behavior consistent with the company’s purpose and values. Evaluate and promote based not just on business performance but also on the extent to which leaders exemplify these values. A trust-base culture is hard to build but once created provides the basis for sustainable competitive advantage.
Toward the end of the interview, Russ and Mike discussed that Higher Ambition should not only come from the top. CEO’s can create the shining model and educate employees, customers, and investors alike. But the true measure of success for a higher ambition way of thinking is for this vision to permeate throughout the entire organization in an enduring way.
Finally, Mike argued that the rise of capital markets and speculation got us off track but we are entering a new era and the wind is at our back. His hope was that in the years ahead higher ambition will become “the new normal” for both large and small companies on a global scale.
Dollars and Change airs each Thursday on SiriusXM channel 111.