Change the Way Leaders Lead

At a mall one evening I came across four morbidly obese individuals – one male, three females. They were not just overweight, they were grossly fat and had difficulty walking and breathing. One of them was eating furiously at a fast-food restaurant (I’ve observed that most overweight people gobble down their food really fast); the other three were shopping and walking with obvious difficulty.

I have no idea what made them the way they are but I wondered if they are doing anything to reduce their burden and their health risks?

Is their condition, I wondered, a part of our narcissistic world where people exploit social media to show off anything to boost their ego, so that “friends” can “like” them – from pictures of themselves flying first class to pictures of branded goods they’ve purchased to photo after photo of the tons of food they stuff in their faces. (Confession: seeing those saliva-inducing food pictures often make me crave for some really unhealthy food!)

Or do senseless TV shows like Epic Food Empire anything to do with this? (For the uninitiated, Epic Food Empire is about going to the butcher to find the fattiest slabs of bacon and slapping together the most outrageous, unhealthful meals possible. Such horrific wastage of food should not be allowed to be shown on TV, honestly!)

As I looked at those four humongous-size individuals, I also wondered if their families and loved ones are helping them? What are their friends saying? What about the companies they work for?

Indeed do organizations have a responsibility to ensure that their employees stay healthy?

Not long ago the CEO of a local hospital group made headlines after he was quoted in the newspapers as saying that, for his staff, weight would be a consideration for career advancement.

This ruffled the feathers of unions and human resource practitioners, who felt that such a perspective bordered on discrimination.

However, an academic from the National University of Singapore’s sociology department, applauded the hospital’s initiatives.

But to be fair, she did caution against attributing blame to those unable to conform.

She said staff who work long hours and do overtime may have little chance for regular exercise, resulting in poor health outcomes.

“Now, is it fair then to punish this individual for not being able to conform to an ideal lifestyle? You may end up punishing your loyal employee.”

Indeed not everyone can be like the CEO mentioned – he runs marathons and eats mostly vegetables.

CEOs and leaders of organizations can set the pace and must indeed be exemplary in conduct and behavior.

An unmarried marriage counselor is often not qualified enough to advise those in need of marital counseling.

Those with no children often have no idea what it is like to manage one’s offsprings and to ensure that they are well cared for and are happy.

A bald man trying to sell a hair tonic he has concocted hasn’t much credibility, has he?

If you preach about love but go home and abuse your domestic helper, what credibility do you have?

Apart from being exemplary, leaders must be prepared for the consequences of their words and actions.

If you insist that the BMI of a high-performing star employee must be tied to his promotion despite his fulfilling all his KPIs, are you saying you will withhold promotion just because he is overweight? Are you prepared for this employee to become disgruntled and leave? Are you prepared for a confrontation with the union?

Similarly if you publish a magazine seemingly devoted solely to insulting people’s religions, you had better be prepared for the consequences.

BF Skinner said that people learn from the consequences of their actions.

But some people never learn.

If your cartoonists draw a roll of toilet paper and caption it “Bible” or mock Prophet Mohammad by depicting him in a negative light via insulting, incendiary and disrespectful comics, can you look people in the eye and claim that you are only exercising your right to freedom of expression, and then groan and moan when those insulted strike at you?

Surely no leader would want on his or her hands, the blood of those who have died because they were gunned down for drawing blasphemous cartoons deliberately  intended to offend religious sensibilities.

Freedom of expression is not a license to insult anyone and everyone. You may claim to be an “equal-opportunity insulter” and an entire nation may mourn for your loss but does that make you a hero?

Today’s worlds are interconnected. A butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world, it has been claimed, can affect the weather in another part of the world.

Despite past criticism from the White House and from the French foreign minister, those behind the publication in question have persisted in continuing with their poke-in-the-eye, xenophobic approach.

The result is carnage, a national tragedy.

If leaders continue to live in a vacuum and choose to deliberately become cross-culturally insensitive and oblivious to the world around them, they have lost their sense of realism.

They have lost their right to lead.

Leadership is not just about executing what you have decided to do.

It’s also about preparing for the fallout of your actions.

And being accountable for it.