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Re-evaluating Leadership and Governance

Costas Markides (1)

World Economic Forum 2002

The modern corporation is a fragile institution. To survive in today’s turbulent world, it must be able to, on the one hand, make an accurate assessment of its external environment so as to strategically position itself correctly in this volatile environment; and on the other hand, remain faithful to the (unwritten) moral contract it has with employees to provide them with an environment that sustains them and allows them to grow as individuals.

Needless to say, achieving these two aims is not only difficult but also a never-ending effort. And it only takes one wrong move to bring the whole edifice down, shattered into a million little pieces.

How can the modern corporation cope with such fragility? Surely not with the structures and processes that we have developed and perfected over the last 50 years! And certainly not with the mindsets and behaviours that won the Cold War for us. No, what is needed is a total rethink of how we manage the modern corporation.

Central to this rethink must be the realization that the only way an organization can remain “flexible” and “fluid” is by becoming amoeba-like: moving in a certain direction but always responding to local stimuli and changing direction in response to new information from its environment. How can this be achieved? Only by giving people autonomy and freedom to monitor what’s going on around them and respond as they see fit. No room for “generals” any more because everybody will be a general! But how can we do this without descending into chaos? Through organizational strong values and beliefs which act as the parameters within which our people are free to operate. Gone are the days when plans, incentives and hierarchies ruled the world. Let’s welcome the new “moral” corporation because this is the species that will dominate our world for the next century.










1) Professor of Strategic and International Management, London Business School, United Kingdom. February 25, 2001

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