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Davos leadership. Is there a pill for verbal indigestion?

In the run up to this year’s Davos gathering of the great and the something or other, the founder of the World Economic Forum, professor Klaus Schwab, issued an extraordinary one pager in the 11 January edition of the Financial Times.
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Entitled “A Call for Responsive and Responsible Leadership”, be prepared, dear reader, for what a friend of mine describes as “Naive Davosian-Blairite tosh”. Let me take you on a journey through this Davos leader’s verbal fog.

It starts with: “It is the daunting task of today’s leaders to take the right decisions in a complex world that suffers from many legacy issues and emotional turmoil. There cannot just be a return to basics! There has to be a recognition that we are in unmapped territory, which places the status quo, and by extension leaders themselves, into question. To fulfil this task, leaders need sensitivity and empathy to serve as their radar system and values and vision as their compass.”

The sheer number of clichés in this paragraph would make any Hollywood film trailer voiceover immensely proud. How did “there cannot just be a return to basics!” get in there? Has Schwab just come from tea with Sir John and Lady Major? Did you know that today’s radar systems can cater for sensitivity and empathy and you can buy a compass that points to values and vision?

Schwab meanders on until he brings the reader up short with “we must invest substantially more into our physical, digital and social infrastructure, enabling current and future generations to have a purposeful life”. Ah I see, so the mental and moral guidance evolved over 2000 years plus of mainstream religious thought can go hang so long as Davos man provides our kids with wi-fi enabled roofs over their heads and social services. That is the meaning of life.

“Leaders must be determined to ensure greater inclusiveness in the functioning of markets”. Xavier Rolet, the SEC and the FCA, this is your starter for ten points. Or perhaps he means Tesco should include all its customers in the decision making when it comes to deciding whose crisp packets to stack their shelves with?

“Leaders have to fix the present social contract. Moreover, they must also design the contracts necessary for the post-industrial age, with its new features of circular and shared economies”. We can only thank the Lord Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are not around to read this bizarre hijacking of their great works!

Indeed, “the time has come to rethink the economic and social norms by which we measure societal progress.” I’m not sure I’ve come across the term “societal progress” before but I expect China’s president XI Jinping can enlighten us when he attends the Davos bash next week. No doubt Schwab will meet with a receptive Chinese audience when he goes on to remind them, and all others present that “leaders have to create and engage in agile and informal cooperation platforms required for the political, economic, social and technological context of the 21st century. Leadership always comprises stewardship for the world as a whole-holistically taking care of humankind and nature.” Good luck with that lot tripping off the translators’ tongues.

There is so much more but by now I expect you are almost ready to run screaming down the street or reach for an analgesic. But permit me just one more pass at the Schwab sheet: “The world is fundamentally transforming technologically, economically, socially and politically. The ongoing transformation needs to be shaped by appropriate policies and institutions. There are no simple, ready-made solutions. What we urgently need are pragmatic and future-orientated actions, even in the form of small steps, to provide positive narratives.”

Can a transformation be shaped by a policy? What are these magical policies and institutions? I thought all actions by definition take place in the future. Can steps provide narratives? Give me strength. Davos man has for some years been susceptible to disappearing up his own hind quarters. Schwab’s mangled outpouring looks set to take them well into that “unmapped territory”. Time gentlemen, please.

Image: Shutterstock

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