Businesses are among the most powerful entities in the modern world. The largest have greater wealth and influence than many governments. Even small businesses and entrepreneurs regularly reach a global audience. Leaders of businesses have become, by default, leaders of society. This creates an opportunity, even a responsibility, to lead in a way that shapes not just a better business but a better society, the sort of world we all want to live in.

Acknowledging Real Desires

People are often portrayed as cynical and self-serving, unable to consider the greater good. It’s a perspective that has been encouraged by a certain cynical and self-serving part of the economy, an old guard with a vested interest in keeping the status quo and not making the sorts of changes that people really want.

But when we look more deeply into people’s desires, we find they want to be led down a path that is better for society and the environment, that they want to look after the greater good. As Harvard Professor Stephen Ansolabehere has shown, the majority of Americans want to see our energy provided by solar and wind power. The challenge for business should not be to meet the needs of a selfish, gas-guzzling public that only exists in the minds of oil executives. It should be to provide environmentally friendly solutions, the ones that people really want.

Moving Beyond Disposability

The late twentieth century revolution in consumer markets led to a focus on disposable products, ones designed to be thrown away and replaced by the next model to keep business constantly working. It’s an approach that left customers with broken gadgets and empty wallets, all for the sake of business.

One of the biggest challenges for humanity identified by scientists is building resilient social and ecological systems, developing an infrastructure that can endure and sustain us in the long term. It’s about achieving the opposite of those disposable products, creating something lasting and worthwhile. It’s a cause that will need the support of business, and it’s something that serves the common good.

Leaders of businesses have become, by default, leaders of society. This creates an opportunity, even a responsibility, to lead in a way that shapes not just a better business but a better society, the sort of world we all want to live in.

If we want to prove our worth as social leaders, to live up to the trust placed in us, then we need to look beyond disposability, both in the products we provide and the way we run our businesses. Instead of ensuring our continuing position by creating disposable products, we should recognize our own jobs and organizational structures as disposable, put in place long enough to achieve enduring goals before moving on to the next great project. It will certainly create a better legacy than heaps of chewed up plastic toys.

Living Wages

The ongoing effects of inflation, along with the jobs lost in the recent downturn, mean that one of the greatest social problems we currently face is ensuring that everybody has enough money to survive without unnecessary discomfort or distress. To feed and house their families, buy clothes for their children and pay their medical bills.

The minimum wage is never enough for this, and so one of the most fundamental and straightforward acts of social leadership we can undertake is to ensure that we are paying a living wage. Fight back against the downward pressure on wages. Pay your employees well and you will get good employees, good work and a healthier local economy. You’ll also help to push up wages across the board, forcing other companies to pay well for good employees.

Leading the Change

As leaders, it’s important to be the change we want to see in society. But more than that, it’s important to lead that change.

Originally appeared on Switch and Shift: http://switchandshift.com/leading-the-change-we-wish-to-see