Dec. 21, 2004
Kosovo And CEOs: Examining life's bottom line.

Tenuous seems the connection between Kosovo, a once-autonomous region within Serbia, and any number of CEOs. Kosovo, with an agrarian economy now in shambles, is neither an enticing market nor an attractive production base. Its roads and other infrastructure are inadequate to the demands of even the most rudimentary of manufacturing industries. Kosovo's proud people are nevertheless unskilled in the work of most industries. Indeed, in Kosovo, a place under siege for so many of these past months, the focus of life is on survival, not profits or productivity. The connection between Kosovo and any number of CEOs seems so tenuous, except for this: The questions that CEOs regularly ask in the course of their businesses are the 10 operating questions that they and the rest of the world now need to be asking and answering about Kosovo: 1. Why is this an issue for us? 2. What are the options for action? 3. What are the consequences of inaction? 4. What resources are required? 5. What are our constraints? 6. What are our goals? 7. What is our strategic direction? 8. Where do we expect to be one year, two years, five years, or even 10 years from now? 9. Do we understand our goals and strategic direction? 10. How well, and to whom, have we communicated our goals and direction? Tenuous seems the connection between Kosovo and any number of CEOs, except for this: CEOs are human beings, and not just the leaders of businesses. "We will need, perhaps, to create more activity outside the purely economic sphere, where the motivation will be unconnected with efficiency and more to do with intrinsic satisfaction and worth," writes Charles Handy, the one-time Shell International Oil Co. executive and London Business School professor, in The Hungry Spirit (1997, Broadway Books). It was human worth that former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Schultz was focusing on when he asked with barely controlled anger at an international business conference in Madrid a few years ago how the CEOs in attendance -- and all the rest of humanity -- could sit on the sidelines and do nothing about the genocide then being carried out in Bosnia. Schultz was not asking the question as a former U.S. Secretary of State -- or as a former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury or U.S. Secretary of Labor. Indeed, he was not asking the question as a former anything -- government official or anything else. He was asking the question as a human being. And he was addressing it to the CEOs in conference in Spain's capital city not because they were captains of industry but because they were human beings. Tenuous seems the connection between Kosovo and any number of CEOs, except for this: In the context of Kosovo, Schultz' question needs urgently to be asked again: Will we sit on the sidelines and watch a people be destroyed? It is a question rooted not in strategy but in humanity. It is a challenging question that not only CEOs should be asking and answering. It is a challenging question that every person should be asking and answering. It challenges us because it asks that we reexamine our core values, our core values as human beings. If necessary, one can begin the process by asking the 10 operating questions posed earlier in this essay. But, it is hoped, that no one will stop with them. Indeed, what seems to be needed is an ongoing dialog -- among people who believe there is a human purpose to be served by engaging in it, who believe that the purpose is both a "proper selfishness," to use Handy's phrase, and unmistakably selfless. Writes Handy: "We should trust ourselves to be both great and good, and if sometimes that trust is misplaced, more often it will be merited, for there is that within all of us which cries out for a better and fairer world." Ask Schultz' question in the context of Kosovo -- and the connection between Kosovo and any number of CEOs is not at all tenuous. It is strong and substantial, not slender or weak.

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