How experienced leaders in business and other professions can act on their “youthful idealism” and make a difference in addressing complex societal problems.
Harvard Business School professor Kanter (Move: Putting America's Infrastructure Back in the Lead, 2015, etc.) directs Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Institute, which, since 2008, has helped some 500 retired CEOs and others gain the “outside-the-building, silo-busting” skills needed to take on “messy, complex systems problems” ranging from income inequality to human trafficking. In this striking book, the author distills the lessons learned in the program, in which successful men and women, eager to do good measured in lives improved rather than income earned, explore societal issues of interest, take classes on relevant topics outside their own area of expertise, and use their “capabilities, connections, and cash” (the latter not necessarily their own) to create cross-sector coalitions in pursuit of social change. Drawing on 50 case studies and hundreds of interviews, Kanter tells riveting stories of “bold, imaginative” leadership: A Trader Joe’s CEO fights hunger, an Anheuser-Busch CEO confronts educational disparities in St. Louis, a European banker creates partnerships to finance improved ocean health, and a Hong Kong investment banker helps women work in Southeast Asia. In each case, the societal issue is rife with ambiguity and conflict, with no single organization in charge, and the challenge is to find fresh, convention-defying approaches engaging many stakeholders. The author stresses the care with which participants must approach an issue, how they develop the ability to conduct “multiple efforts on multiple fronts,” and the challenges of working “across disciplines and institutional silos.” She is sometimes repetitious, but mainly to emphasize the powerful potential of her approach. Time alone will reveal the outcomes of these projects, she writes, but they hold much promise and could well serve as models for others.
This realistic and hopeful manual shows how accomplished individuals can tackle problems whose victims often lack resources to take action.