Partway through the sweeping epic that is War and Peace, Tolstoy inserts the first of several philosophical musings on the nature of history, leadership, and power. It takes, as its cue, Napoleon's crossing of the Russian frontier at the head of a vast invasion army in June, 1812. What, Tolstoy wanted to know, lay behind the terrible tide of events that was to bring suffering and destruction on such an unimaginable scale – hundreds of thousands killed, towns and villages burned, and the fertile earth turned into a wasteland? He was unshakably clear about one thing: it was not, as many of his contemporaries believed, the decisive impact of 'Great Men'.
"A king is History's slave. History, that is, the unconscious, general, swarm-life of mankind, uses every moment of the life of kings as a tool for its own purposes," Tolstoy wrote.
While it was true that some leaders were more able than others to walk the tightrope of events, all were conditioned by what had gone before, he argued. Real power didn't lie in issuing orders, but in the co-operation – complicity, even – between those who gave orders and those who were expected to carry them out. If only enough was known about the countless opaque threads of objects, occurrences, and influences that comprise the web of life, the relative powerlessness of those in authority to shape events would become obvious.
Tolstoy's aim, in foregrounding Napoleon's Russian campaign, was to shift attention from the leader to the led. In this issue of the Business Review, Fiona Kennedy and Darl Kolb do something similar, as they glean leadership lessons from a different kind of campaign: th e 2016 US presidential electi on. "If authenticity is the key to explaining this historic moment, then events on the campaign trail shed light on what authentic leadership is, and what it is not," they write. Among their conclusions: authenticity emanates from a powerful alchemy between leader and followers; and focusing on one's "inner self" risks producing leaders who encourage their followers' fantasies rather than asking them to face complex realities.
Also in this issue, Tim Hazledine uses sophisticated modelling to investigate what underpins the remuneration of New Zealand CEOs. Puzzlingly, he finds no apparent systemic link between remuneration and productivity or firm profitability. Chellie Spiller touches on another Tolstoy theme – the wisdom that stems from a deep awareness of the 'flow of life'. Writer Isaiah Berlin calls this sensitivity to the contours of circumstances, a "cosmic orientation". Having studied Polynesian master navigators who harness such awareness through centuries-old wayfinding techniques, Spiller reports on a promising new approach to leadership. Monique Cikaliuk advances an argument for company boards to become the drivers of strategic transformation. Documenting the renewal process at Auckland International Airport she details how its board broke the status quo by creating a vision for change and instilling a capacity to adapt. Lastly, Barry Coates champions the need for companies to embrace sustainability in their governance practices. Doing so, he argues, would improve the country's competitiveness in demanding supply chains and markets, reap social and environmental benefits, and help meet climate change obligations.
Which brings us back to Napoleon. When his military adventure failed so spectacularly in 1812, he put it down to "General Winter' – the brutal Russian climate. It was a deceit calculated to deflect criticism of his own ability. Today, as the contributors to this issue suggest, outdated ideas of leadership won't be rescued by blaming the weather.
Polynesian navigators offer powerful leadership lessons.MORE...
Strategic renewal requires a board ready to drive a vision for change.MORE...
Social and environmental accountability is becoming the new benchmark for directors.MORE...