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Leading With Integrity by Michael Smith (60-65)

This is Mike Smith's seventh book with a corporate theme and his fourth on ethical values, all written with the support of his long-time employer Initiatives of Change (IofC)
13 Sep 2019
Written by Robin Knight
Book Reviews

This is Mike Smith’s seventh book with a corporate theme and his fourth on ethical values, all written with the support of his long-time employer Initiatives of Change (IofC). From 2010-17 he was Head of Business Programmes UK at the organisation which emerged out of the Moral Re-Armament movement two decades ago. Today IofC bills itself as a global organisation dedicated to "building trust across the world's divides" of culture, nationality, belief, and background.

In this latest book Smith pulls together the accumulated insights that he has gained from innumerable meetings, conferences and interviews that he has attended over the past two decades. He has an easy narrative style, hoovers up facts and figures from his notebooks, arranges his material in clearly-defined topics such as corruption and trust and very clearly identifies himself with efforts to reform capitalism for “the common good.”

This approach can become a bit repetitive. The central assumption behind the book is that “business as usual” is no longer viable and that a basic re-think of the core purposes of business as conducted worldwide is now necessary. “A fundamental choice for leaders lies in their core motivation: whether it is one of acquisition or contribution to society,” Smith believes. Without arguing so directly, the underlying suggestion he makes throughout the book is that current corporate governance practices are a form of whitewash that need root-and-branch change including giving them an overt moral purpose.

Corporate responsibility certainly is a topical theme in the business world. But it is doubtful if those in charge of large (or medium-sized) companies will see meditation groups, daily reflection times at work or the allowance of mistakes in performance as part of any serious reform initiative. This sort of work behaviour is no doubt worthy – as are the 17 “takeaways” listed at the end of the book. These include, for example, “the courage to lead with integrity,” persuading bankers that their main motivation should be “service to customers and society” and acceptance that the way things are done in business is as important as what is done.

The 60 case studies of ethical best practice (as defined by IofC) that Smith cites in this book have value to a reader in themselves. One involves the self-effacing OP Chris Weston (77-82), CEO of the FTSE 250 temporary energy supply company Aggreko. Weston is a strong advocate of the view that the “tone at the top” comes from the CEO, especially over things like bribes and fraud. Ethics training for all 7,300 employees in Aggreko, including Weston, takes place every two years. Today the company is regarded in what is a highly competitive industry as “unapproachable” as far as bribery and corruption goes. 

In conclusion, the mantra for the 21st century, argues Smith has to be “What can I give?” in contrast to that of the 20th century (as he defines it) “What can I get?” Business life today, he reckons, should be all about contribution if capitalism is to survive. It is a challenging and radical notion but Michael Smith has the courage of his convictions and in this book doubles down on the central IofC argument that there is now an urgent need for new leadership in business.

by ROBIN KNIGHT (56-61)

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