It's taking us back to when the bosses paid for day trips out for their workforce, well before the law ensured that there was holiday pay for everyone. Back to when business leaders considered staff welfare as a top priority and ensured their employees had health care, the children had education. Back to where they provided homes. There was a clear reference to the wider corporate social responsibility that so many pay lip service to today.
(And before the historians amongst you start shouting, I'm referring to the conscious driven owners here, not those who fleeced their workers and yes there were horrendous stories of the equivalence today of slave labour and exploitation.)
James took me back to the day when there was still an awareness of the need for profit, but also a realisation that by looking after your employees, by taking into account their whole life circumstances you got better workers, less sickness and profit was reinvested into what I call the company collective.
I'm half-way through the book and I'm beginning to like what I'm reading. There has been a mutation in leadership in that the emphasis for too long has been on dividends and bonuses for the top echelon rather than the company collective: those who make up the teams, who undertake the tasks and deliver. Sure we need to make companies profitable, without profit they cannot grow. Equally we need to generate that profitability, or performance growth within, and integral to, the workforce. It is in this that we are lacking.
I had to ask myself, do we need then to refer back to the 19th century style of good leadership? Updated of course to take into account new technology and a global economy and I had to answer yes, in part. There were aspects in there which drove an industrial revolution and spawned increased wealth at all levels, aided social mobility and generated investment in oneself, in one's community.
It takes a shift in culture, in leadership styles and approaches, in thinking itself if we are to start moving the pendulum back. First then we need to tackle the poor leadership that Peston describes. We need to help them up their game through quality coaching. We need to generate an environment where they can have quality thinking and decision making. We need to then cascade that through the workforce so that every employee contributes to that thinking, to the company collective, and stir the pot to generate creativity so that the teams can better problem solve and improve their productivity.
Who's going to take up the challenge?