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‘Leadership That Works’ Requires ‘Higher Ambition’

The time is now

As Founder and CEO of ConantLeadership—a growing community of leaders and learners who are championing “leadership that works” in the 21st century—I’m committed to the idea that leaders are needed more urgently now than ever. That’s why I’m also excited to share the work of another organization I’m deeply engaged with as Chair—The Center for Higher Ambition Leadership (CHL)—whose work naturally aligns with ConantLeadership’s operating philosophy, leadership resources, and training and development curriculums.

A new era

As we continue to navigate the co-converging crises that have marked the last year-and-a-half—our employees, our customers, and society are all looking to us to help build a brighter future. 21st century organizations can no longer focus solely on delivering shareholder returns; now is the era of “total stakeholder returns.” That means leaders must help create high-performing, human-centered workplaces that contribute to a more equitable society; answering this call is a requirement of practicing “leadership that works” today. And meeting this urgent need requires a “Higher Ambition”—an ambition that aspires to leverage the resources of the business world to create a better world for everyone. This is the work that inspires me both as CEO of ConantLeadership and as Chair of the Center for Higher Ambition Leadership(CHL).

Win with integrity—or not at all

While I’ve spent much of my leadership journey working towards this “Higher Ambition approach,” the language is not my own. I first heard those words in 2008 when I was serving as the President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company—a position I held for over a decade. A few of the authors of the book “Higher Ambition: How Great Leaders Create Economic and Social Value” came to my office to interview and profile me for their research (their book would be published three years later), and everything began to click. What they were calling “Higher Ambition leadership”—the concept of simultaneously creating both economic and social value—resonated with me deeply. In fact, it was basically what I had been doing for years to turnaround Campbell Soup Company.

In the first seven years of my tenure, before I’d ever heard the magic words “Higher Ambition,” my leadership team had revitalized Campbell Soup Company around what we called the “Campbell Success Model.”

The Campbell Success Model had four elements:

  1. Win in the Workplace
  2. Win in the Marketplace
  3. Win with Communities
  4. Win with Integrity

These four components connected holistically in a virtuous circle. A commitment to “winning in the workplace,” would in turn lead to the second element, “winning in the marketplace,” which would then enable our company to better serve society so that we could embody the third element, “win with communities.” And all of this work was tethered to the fourth element of the model, “winning with integrity.” As we implemented this approach successfully, it became the blueprint for what I now include in the tenets of “leadership that works.”  Firsthand, I saw then what I even more adamantly believe now: “Leadership that works” means winning with integrity—or not at all.

At Campbell, I was proud to be implementing what was considered an enlightened approach—but, quite frankly, it felt lonely. I wondered why other large companies weren’t more aggressively following a similar path; the benefits were so obvious to me. Then, the authors of “Higher Ambition” came into my office and gave a new language to describe my approach: “Higher Ambition leadership.”

It turned out there were many other companies winning with integrity—companies like Henry Schein, Becton Dickinson, Herman Miller, NYU Langone Medical Center, Pacific Dental, and more. They were outside my frame of reference and sector but as I learned more about them, I began to feel more optimistic about the future of corporate leadership. If Campbell could find a way to create economic and social value—and all these other companies could do it—that meant the sky was the limit: More and more companies could move in this direction and help build a better world in the process. An exciting thought.

When I retired from Campbell in 2011, I redoubled my commitment to championing “leadership that works” with a “Higher Ambition” approach. That year, I founded ConantLeadership and helped start CHL. Together, we are spreading the message that today’s business must win with integrity, creating both economic and social value—full stop. And now we are starting a bold new chapter at CHL, one that naturally aligns with our mission at ConantLeadership.

If you want to lead your organization to higher ground; if you want to win in the workplace, win in the marketplace, win in your communities, and win with integrity, please explore this week’s announcements about CHL below.

Record industry support, a new CEO, and powerful programming are poised to bring greater opportunities and impact for CHL members

Our new CEO brings experience and vision

Guiding us forward will be our talented new CEO, Jeannie Diefenderfer. She brings exceptional credentials to this role, spanning corporate executive leadership with Verizon, academic board service, and stewardship of purpose-driven nonprofits.

31 business and academic luminaries join CHL’s mission

We have strengthened, expanded, and diversified our board of directors, announcing four new members. We have created a Chair Advisory Council of world-class leaders who subscribe to our intentions and are committed to helping us lift our game. And we have assembled an impressive Academic Advisory Council of faculty advancing practice in the areas of organizational behavior, strategy, and innovation to help our members connect with the latest research and emerging trends.

We are expanding on a strong foundation of programs driven by member priorities

CHL helps member companies better deliver both high-performance and socially responsible business leadership day-in and day-out.

  1. Leadership Development. We’ve extended our leadership development programming—beyond our established executive and senior leader programs—with flexible options and new programs to help mid-career leaders more effectively translate the desired organizational purpose into practice.
  2. Organizational Performance. Our CEO, CHRO, and Operations Networks are vibrant and supportive communities of Higher Ambition leaders who share best practices and gain access to world-class thought leaders from the academic and business communities.
  3. Social Impact. We are advancing specific initiatives to bring together corporate leaders and diverse stakeholders in cities and regions across the U.S. for targeted social impact.

Learn more: https://www.higherambition.org/news-upload/june-2021-press-release

Now is the time for leaders at all levels—from first-time managers to CEOs—to lead. Leadership that works requires a “Higher Ambition” and CHL, and ConantLeadership, are here to help you make a difference in your organization and in the world. Join us! Your people can’t wait; the time is now.

>>Contact ConantLeadership
>>Contact CHL



(Cover photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash)

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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