Leader of Consequence, not Dominance and Arrogance

In this final part of my treatise on the myth of well-rounded MBA, the grandiose idea that leadership in business can solve all the world’s ills through spreadsheets and Sartre, I want to reflect upon the concept of ‘Leader of Consequence’ that is at the heart of the Fuqua philosophy.

When I first encountered the ‘Leader of Consequence’ concept as part of my CCMBA application, all I could think was ‘WTF?  These people are out of their minds!’  The essay question gave you a paragraph introduction to the concept, then said “So, how do you fit into this mold?”  Good question.  At that time, I wrote about the collapse of the financial markets, and how I figured that there could be a better operating model in retail financial services.  Two semesters into the program, I’d frame my answer a little differently now, because I think the vision goes much further than my original problem-action-resolution essay.

Don’t be a jerk

I regularly read The Comparative Advantage, a blog dealing with general management issues and business.  Elad posited a question, “Do we really need flamboyant visionaries to run our companies? (link)”  The Economist seems to think so, even while admitting there are plenty of Jeff Skilling’s and Dennis Kozlowski’s of the world that aren’t the best examples of their philosophy.  Elad disagrees, as do I, and this is the first place where I think the ‘Leader of Consequence’ vision plays out: in short, Don’t be a jerk.

Don’t be a jerk.  It’s a good rule to live by in general, but even more so in business.  I’ve never heard the Fuqua staff state this as boldly as I have just now, but you can feel it in everything we do.  From the introduction of the Team Fuqua concept early in the first residency, to letting us know that you WILL get along with your teammates (or at least, you’re not switching teams until the 3rd semester!), this MBA program is intended to show that it’s not about you, it’s about how you fit into and can improve your greater surroundings.  I agree with The Economist in that the World needs fewer faceless leaders, but watching the financial meltdown real-time, it’s clear that we don’t need any more raging egomaniacs either!

Sure, there are people like Mark Cuban or Donald Trump who have made names for themselves (and a boatload of cash) with their over-the-top jerky behavior.  But I have to wonder what they could really do if they weren’t so much themselves.  At least Cuban’s got a billion or three in the bank; not sure why Trump still acts the way he does!

Pay attention to the World surrounding you

The idea of ‘pay attention’ has been made pretty explicitly through the Duke Wake Up video campaign, and I think it’s  worth repeating.  I fully admit coming into this program that I was (and still am) fairly ignorant on so many levels: geography, history, culture, language…and probably a few others!  Living in the U.S., somehow it seems like it’s okay to not know about these things.  There are 50 states worth of information that most of us don’t really keep up on, so who has time for other countries?  The rest of the World “wants to be American” anyway, so as long as we pay attention to what’s going on with us everything’s okay, right?

Despite this idea perpetuated through the in-depth reporting and sophistication of the 24-hour cable news channels and television in general, no, this isn’t really true and it’s not okay.  The rest of the World might not really hate the U.S., but we’re not doing ourselves any favors either by perpetuating the ideas that other countries don’t matter either.

That’s not to say that every leader in the 21st century needs to be a foreign affairs expert, or necessarily have to be involved on the World stage.  But we’ll all need to consider the sphere of influence we unleash, and how that impact cascades into, perhaps, unintended consequences.  Realizing that ‘not everyone wants what I want’, or that it’s not necessarily the best solution at a point and time, or what you thought you understood was just flat out wrong, and knowing that before you act.


After three posts and several thousand words into this diatribe, I’ve realized that I’m basically arguing against Carlyle’s “Great Man Theory” in supporting the idea of ‘Leader of Consequence’.  Unlike when I wrote my application essays, I write all of my blog posts off the top of my head, usually based on other articles I read.  In this case,  I think this ‘happy accident’ does work; being a ‘Leader of Consequence’ to me is less about what you are doing, and more about how you are doing it.  Although Google has been getting some bad press lately about their views around privacy on the Internet, I think the company motto of ”Don’t Be Evil” relays the same basic idea. 

It would be great if one of my classmates turns out to be the next Steve Jobs or a Jack Welch, or Meg Whitman for the ladies in the program, adding to the long line of examples ’Great Man Theory’.  Heck, I’d settle Mark Cuban’s wealth!  But there’s something to be said about how you get to where you are going, and to me, that’s what makes a ‘Leader of Consequence’.

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5 comments to Leader of Consequence, not Dominance and Arrogance

  • Naveen Venkataraman


    My 2 cents worth.

    The rest of the world doesn’t “want to be American”. Its just business.


  • Naveen –

    I fear that my meaning didn’t come through…I was intending to mock the idea that the U.S. doesn’t have to pay attention to the differences around the world, since the World is supposed to want to be like us anyway. It’s a strange thought that I actually hear quite a bit both directly, and indirectly, in popular culture.

  • Naveen Venkataraman

    Hi Randy,

    Sorry if that sounded rude. I probably should have put down my full thoughts. My response was to the popular perception.

    I understood what you were trying to say. To my mind the first thoughts were of migrant Indians who find it difficult to blend into a Western culture, whether in the US or the UK, where quite a lot of them are settled.

    A lot of my friends who study in the US eagerly await coming back to India to partake of the functions, food, culture and company. The same is the case with elders who go to live abroad as well.

    Having said that, it is quite possible that second and third generation migrants lend credence to the popular perception.

    You will be visiting Delhi soon. Time to put the theory to test :)


  • Elad Sherf

    Hey Randy,
    First of all, thanks for the mention on the post. I would also point you to this http://tinyurl.com/yepovh2 for another perspective on the subject of what kind of leaders we should look for.

    I am in Mumbai right now taking a course in International Business Strategy in Asia and hearing a few thoughts both by Indian’s and others on the subjects you mention in the post. If I take one thing from this trip is the understanding about the importance of cultural differences in business and about the importance of education in eradicating misunderstandings and ignorance. Different, most times, does not mean wrong. It just means different. While there are great things in the U.S. and the American system, there are many good ideas, concepts and habits in other countries and cultures. This genetic variety should be celebrated and used as a leverage for growth and not as a divider.
    Very interesting post and evolution of your thought process about leadership…

  • Naveen, I didn’t take it as rude at all. Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t causing an international incident ;)

    Thanks for stopping by Elad, and the link to the HBR article! When you get back from Mumbai, I look forward to reading about your overall experience. Our MBA class will be heading over to Delhi at the end of January, so it will be interesting to compare your learnings with what we see/learn from the business people we’ll be interacting with.

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