It’s a very challenging time to be a business leader, as the waves of disruption seem to be unceasing. Yet even before the unsettling events of 2020, leadership has required agility and flexibility.
David Cameron, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, is no stranger to these challenges. During our digital event Conversations for a Changing World, he joined Fortune CEO Alan Murray to talk about how business leaders can make a difference through tumultuous circumstances. Here are three key takeaways.
Cameron emphasized that as uncertain times continue, business leaders can’t stand back and leave it to governments and other institutions to tackle difficult societal issues. They must step up and get involved, he said, adding that “it’s essential that business leaders don’t step into these waters with great trepidation; they have to embrace this greater role.”
Companies are held accountable for the impact they have on the environment and on their communities, and Cameron reminded the audience that “the businesses that succeed in the future will be the ones that embrace this role and recognize that good business is about so much more than simply maximizing shareholder value.”
“I think it’s essential that business leaders don’t step into these waters with great trepidation; they have to embrace this greater role.”David Cameron Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
In times of upheaval, companies should use their influence and power for good. For example, Cameron shared that in his “after-life” as a business consultant, he worked with a fintech company that uses its technology to enable people to receive their salaries on a daily basis.This helps to eliminate predatory practices such as payday lending, and is an example of the type of positive impact tech companies can have on people’s lives.
“If you want a better country, a better world, you’ve got to get in there and change it.”
David Cameron Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
Modern business leaders need to have a long-term view, and be cognizant of their role in social justice issues, Cameron said. They must have a view wider than just maximizing profits.
Still, he acknowledged, it’s a challenging time to be a leader. With today’s fast-paced news cycle, it doesn’t take long for something to spread that could potentially damage your brand, and you may not have time to deliberate over issues like you once could. And, there’s more scrutiny on businesses. As Cameron said, “Increasingly, people do care—does this business pay the right amount of tax, does it look after its workforce, what’s its effect on the climate and environment, how does it treat its neighborhoods?”
But there are also opportunities, if business leaders are willing to step up. As Cameron encouraged the audience, “I would say if you want a better country, a better world, you’ve got to get in there and change it.”