Corporate Citizen Leadership

The broader implication of Citizen Leadership for a corporation is captured in this question: As we pursue our goals, are we operating in a way that serves the common good? I believe we earn the right to call ourselves citizens because we are willing to actively participate in, serve in and lead efforts that better a community. I propose that a corporation has the same opportunity.

Now whether it acts on that opportunity is another story — and speaks volumes about the disposition of its leaders. And among the dispositions that thwart those efforts in our business communities: maximize wealth. I’m very familiar with it. It’s the mantra I learned in business school. It’s the message I’ve gotten from any number of leaders and consulting clients whose primary focus has been on building market value.

Yes we have fiduciary and legal responsibilities to our investors and shareholders. But in a citizen leader world, we also have responsibilities that extend well beyond our investors and shareholders to our other fellow citizens— not the least of whom are our employees, our clients and the people who live in our communities. In a citizen leader world, our pursuit of wealth (or power, or influence or reputation) does not give us license to degrade or damage the well-being of our constituents or our communities. Taking it one step deeper, in a citizen leader world, we are asked to act in ways that benefit our communities.

In 1886 [Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad] the Supreme Court allowed that a corporation is entitled to some of the same protections under our Constitution as is a natural person. That decision has been reexamined and reaffirmed any number of times since. Those decisions taken together have morphed into a short and succinct claim by our corporations to equal treatment under the law. Fair enough. It’s 2012. Now, 126 years later, if our corporations and institutions are intent on being included equally among We the People, then as a matter of course rather than as an exception, isn’t it also fair to at least ask that they act like citizens? Isn’t it also fair to expect that they act like citizens? And isn’t it also fair to expect that they, along with the rest of us, along with the rest of We the People, play an active role in promoting the common good (the general welfare)[1] .

In a citizen leader culture, we as a corporation recognize that we are all in this together. We look to ensure that our actions contribute rather than damage or degrade. We look for ways to give back rather than just maximize our take.

Heed the words of former Secretary of State and Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell who reminds us:

My responsibility, our responsibility as lucky Americans, is to try to give back to this country as much as it has given us, as we continue our American journey together.


[1] The full preamble to the Constitution of the United States reads: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.