Capitalism’s Death Throes: Choosing Courage Over Comfort

Economic models of yesterday are way past their shelf life, and yet much of global business continues to operate within a “profit at any cost” mindset.

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Profit cannot continue to be the singular gold standard for companies of tomorrow or our North Star—there is too much at stake for all of us.

It is time for leaders in every organization, of any scope and size, to profoundly and deeply examine the underlying reason why the company actually exists. Leaders who do this with their companies find their footing in values,  and those values drive behavior, even when facing criticism and fear. It all comes down to what we believe and what is important to us.

This weekend I sat on the couch on Sunday (as I love to do,) reading past issues of The New York Times, when I stumbled onto an unlikely hero rooted in his values in the feature story of Ed Stark, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Days after the Parkland shooting that killed 17 people in February of 2018, Stark announced that Dick’s would immediately stop selling all assault-style rifles, no longer sell high-capacity magazines and would require any gun buyer to be at least 21, regardless of local laws. Writer David Gelles say in that piece, “Despite the ensuing attack from the NRA, Mr. Stack was unbowed. He announced that Dick’s would destroy the assault-style rifles and accessories on its shelves instead of returning them to manufacturers.”

I can only imagine what his decisions have cost Mr. Stark and the pressures he must face from within and outside the organization for making a move that could so profoundly affect the bottom-line. Good job,  Ed. It makes my heart sing to see leaders who are standing firm in what they believe is right, even if it threatens their profit arrow going always up and to the right, OR if it challenges the status quo. 

Fast Company magazine featured Yvonne Chouinard in October and the paradoxical title “Capitalism Is Dead/Long Live Capitalism.” People are talking everywhere about the crisis capitalism faces, from Anand Giridharadas challenging the cult of the billionaire as savior to the Ford Foundation’s Darren Walker addressing the capitalism crisis  who says “The imperative of the 21st century is to build a new economy that recognizes the role of business and corporations in creating value in ways that better benefit society.”

From where I sit, we need more courage like this, more often. 

As inspiring as these stories are, and as clearly as they paint the stark reality that profit itself does not solve our big, messy, and complex social and environmental problems, it is incumbent on each of us, no matter what our sphere of influence, to do the right thing when it counts. 

These grounded acts of choosing courage over comfort are not always as notable as Ed Stark’s, but they matter no less.. For example, a customer service manager of United Airlines recently decided to refund an expensive fee to me after a service problem, despite the policy. I watched a waiter a few weeks ago ask the cook to prepare a new meal for a friend who is seriously gluten intolerant, despite the fact that she mis-ordered. A middle manager client was faced with a tough call lately where she had do pay for an employee’s planning error in order to come right with a vendor. In my own business, we are examining our own travel patterns to reduce air travel in 2020 and beyond due to the exponential environmental damage caused by flights, even though travel is a primary currency of consulting.

My relentless mantra these days in, “Choose based on what really matters.”  What is yours? I am obsessively drawn to and intrigued by stories of leaders who choose courage over comfort when it comes to their values. Send me yours at  [email protected] or comment on this blog,

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