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This blog is provided by Sam Wilson, co-creator of the Australian Leadership Index. It is a companion to the interview with him and Lynn Shollen that aired as part of the 12-week International Leadership Association Interview Series on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future. The interview aired on Tuesday, February 11, 2020 titled Research Findings on Attitudes About Leadership.
Against a backdrop of unethical conduct and irresponsible leadership in our organizations and distrust of institutions in the public, private and plural sectors, there is a pervasive sense in the community that we are not well served by authorities and the institutions that they lead. As a result, there is a yearning for leadership that serves, and is seen to serve, the greater good.
However, what is the greater good? What is leadership for the greater good? What are the collective responsibilities of those who collectively manage, govern and lead the organizations and institutions in the public, private and plural sectors, and what should they be, in order to show leadership for the greater good?
Obviously, these questions are not especially new to scholars of leadership, as evidenced by the attention given to the ideas of social responsibility and shared value, in the domain of business leadership, and integrative leadership and public value, in the domain of public leadership.
It is, however, less clear what the community thinks about the notions of the greater good and leadership for the greater good. It is not obvious whether community expectations of leadership for the greater good are invariant across the public, private and plural sectors, or whether public opinion is alive to and reflective of the different purposes, goals and functions of these sectors.
Notwithstanding the great difficulty of defining the greater good, in general, and leadership for the greater good, in particular, it behoves us to think and talk about these concepts and practices in the public domain as clearly as we possibly can if we are to imagine, practice and sustain the leadership and followership needed to ensure the long-term welfare and well-being of the general population.
How should we think about the greater good?
The concept of the ‘greater good’, and its synonyms the ‘public good’ and ‘common good’, as well as related ideas like ‘public value’, has the quality of being familiar and commonplace. And yet, these concepts are difficult to articulate in a precise or comprehensive way.
Moreover, as observed by the philosopher Hans Sluga, the diverse conceptions of the good—such as justice, happiness, security—and the variety of tribal, local, national and global communities for which the ‘good’ is sought militates against the identification of a single, determinate good.
However, a promising candidate for the greater good, apt in the context of our grand challenges of unsustainability and diminished human and nonhuman flourishing, is the well-being of the whole.
Understood in this way, the greater good is less about justice or happiness or security and more a gestalt or umbrella term for a number of interlocking concepts pertaining to the conditions that undergird and sustain the survival and flourishing of human and nonhuman life.
To render these ideas less abstract and more actionable, it is helpful to frame the greater good, as well as the conditions and social actions that sustain it, in terms of value creation—specifically, the types of value that are created, the ways in which value are created, and for whom value is created.
Understood in this way, the value-relevant outcomes of institutional behavior enable inferences to be made about their apparent concern for the greater good, as well as about the concern for and practice of leadership for the greater good by those collectively responsible for the management, governance and leadership of these institutions.
The Australian Leadership Index
This construal and operationalization of leadership for the greater good underpins the Australian Leadership Index, which is a new measure of community beliefs about leadership for the greater good in the public, private and plural sectors.
Grounded in community and expert conceptions of the greater good and leadership for the greater good, and drawing on scholarly research into ethical, responsible and integrative leadership, as well as research into public value, the ALI offers a new model of leadership for the greater good that is germane to institutions in the public, private and plural sectors.
From a community perspective, leadership for the greater good occurs when these institutions create social, environmental and economic value for the people they serve and the wider community in a manner that is transparent, accountable and ethical.
The purpose of the Australian Leadership Index is threefold. First, it is to measure community perceptions of the state of leadership for the greater good across different sectors and institutions. Second, it is to measure community expectations of the practice of leadership for the greater good by these sectors and institutions. Third, it is to provide insight into what different types of institutions should do in order to improve their practice of leadership for the greater good.
The Australian Leadership Index provides powerful new insights into community beliefs about leadership and reveals what leaders in the public, private and plural sector institutions can do to show leadership for the greater good.
By making all our results freely available via an innovative, highly interactive data portal (www.australianleadershipindex.org), the Australian Leadership Index makes an important contribution to a community dialogue about the leadership we need for the future we want.
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About the Author
Sam Wilson is a social psychologist whose research spans studies of the nature and drivers of voluntary humanitarian behaviour to national studies of community beliefs about leadership for the greater good in the public, private and plural sectors. He is Co-Creator of the Australian Leadership Index, sectors, Co-Director of the Thriving in Society 4.0 research program of the Social Innovation Research Institute, and Deputy Director of the Social Psychology of Innovation Research Group at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia.