Dean Bill Boulding Tells Business Leaders, “This is Your Time."

Business must maximize public trust and embrace new expectations, he says

January 12, 2022
Leadership

As dean of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Bill Boulding, speaks frequently with the business community.

Lately, he’s been fixated on a single message about the opportunity business has right now to improve society.

“Now that we have gotten into this position where business has a moment, where we are trusted, we cannot fail,” Boulding said.

Boulding cites the Edelman Trust Barometer as evidence of a shift in the public’s attitude toward business. The global survey shows business is not only the most trusted institution compared to governments, non-governmental organizations and the media, but also that it is the only institution the public views as both ethical and competent.

As Boulding explained in a recent discussion on Fuqua’s LinkedIn page, the public’s trust in business now as compared to after the Great Recession indicates how business has led during the pandemic.

The Edelman survey found 77% of people trust their own companies the most of any institution. It also indicated that 72% of people trust their company’s CEO the most compared to other societal leaders. Furthermore, results showed the pandemic has caused 33% of people to believe business must be part of helping solve society’s challenges, on top of the 27% people worldwide who believed that was true even before the pandemic.

“It’s at an inflection point potentially,” Boulding said, “because it’s not just that trust has gone up – expectations of the role of business leadership have also profoundly changed.”

Boulding said in order for business to reach its potential in transforming the world for the better, business leaders must embrace three concepts.

Business leaders must genuinely believe in using business a force for good.
This means leaders must be committed to improving lives through their work, including for their own employees, Boulding said.

“If we fail to live up to this idea that we are really interested in making lives better then I think we will very quickly lose trust built up during the COVID crisis,” he said.

Leaders must understand a great team will always beat a great individual.
Research has shown that diverse teams outperform ones that are more alike – provided everyone on the diverse team genuinely feels part of it, Boulding said.

The COVID pandemic has presented new challenges in building great teams, as polarization has increased and solutions to some problems become politicized, he said. Furthermore, the isolation many workers felt as a result of the pandemic has caused some employees to focus inward, presenting a new challenge for team dynamics, Boulding said.

“This has led to what I will call a fundamental shift in culture, from we – thinking about the team – to me: What is my situation? What are my problems and what are people doing to support me,” he said.

It is essential leaders not only support employees, but also help individuals see their contributions to the organization’s mission, Boulding said, and that demands a certain type of leadership.

Leaders must embrace a “triple-threat” capability.
Boulding believes in a combination of IQ+EQ+DQ or “triple-threat leadership.”

A leader’s IQ, or intelligence quotient, is essential in ensuring business competence to run an organization, Boulding said.

A leader’s EQ, or emotional intelligence, is especially important in healing from the trauma of the pandemic by displaying empathy for others and helping them through stress, anxiety and fear, he said.

However, Boulding believes DQ, or the “decency quotient,” is vital for leaders to truly overcome the challenges of the pandemic. Leaders who authentically exhibit decency and are looking out for the best interests of others will help their organizations heal and establish common purpose, Boulding said. That starts with connecting on a human level and simply listening, he said.

“Communication is just as much about listening as it is about our ability to shape our ideas,” Boulding said.

Boulding also believes leaders who can meet people where they are in healing from the trauma of the pandemic will also be able to better connect their employees to the common purpose of the team and encourage workers to bring their unique perspectives to the mission. And although the challenges business leaders are facing may be substantial, Boulding said, so are the opportunities.

“This is your time as a business leader,” Boulding said. “This is when we need you to inspire and motivate your team, your organizations, and this is when we need you to heal your teams so that we can take advantage of the amazing potential that business has to make all of our lives better.”

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