New Year, New Drama

Well something’s lost, but something’s gained In living every day.

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Think about it: How many times did we hear that the economy, robust for so long, was in for another collapse? (It hadn’t by late fall.) Or how Brexit, tariffs, and other government protectionism were going to create havoc and shut down industries? (Not yet.)

And then there’s North Korea, launching missile tests nightmarishly reminiscent of the Cold War era, until all of a sudden the drama began to end around the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang? At least we can be grateful 2018 didn’t usher in a nuclear war.

The point is that the polarized positions we see in government leaders are the ones that make news and keep us up all night worrying. But, in my mind, I believe 2018 should also be known for something a little less dramatic: the year of leadership, redefined. Not in the public sector, of course, but in the corporate world, where some key departures of legacy CEOs, combined with a series of demands from consumers, workers, and boardrooms, reordered business priorities in a big way.

After all, who could have possibly expected the head of a Wall Street stalwart like BlackRock to warn firms that want its investment to have a social purpose and pursue long-term, not short-term, strategies? And that was just the beginning of a year where purpose and diversity efforts would become a clarion call for many. We had Nike extending its “Just Do It” campaign, Salesforce adjusting gender pay gaps, and Starbucks closing stores to give its workers a day of training to combat unconscious bias.

Indeed, it’s virtually taken for granted in most circles now—where it once wasn’t—that firms without more women leadership and more racial diversity will go nowhere, and that investors and consumers alike won’t budge for companies that aren’t making their purpose transparent.

Of course, there is one proviso we can’t ignore: All this happened in a year with corporate profits rising and unemployment at record lows. Can we guarantee that corporate leadership won’t change if these good times sour? Stay tuned, another year is ahead.

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