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Leadership in the 21st Century
Jacqueline Beretta

October, 2008

We all came here from somewhere else  

Except for native American Indians, we all came to North America for all sorts of reasons: opportunities, hope for a better life, an exceptional education, choice of religion, freedom to do and say what we please ….the list goes on and on. But something has happened recently.  In light of all the stress and turmoil we as a people live through lately, we may have lost our focus and forgotten where we came from and who we are.

Our country has hit a big hole in the middle of the road. This hole must be repaired before we can go on with our journey. You could look on the birght side and say, "Thank goodness it happened now rather than later when it might have become an entire sink hole." With all the stress, we seem to be taking this big pot hole in the middle of the path pretty stoically. 

It began as a wee crack in the path a long time ago. The crack continued to grow every time it rained, a big truck or bus drove over it and stopped, or the heat baked down on it. We took it for granted  and filled it with asphalt so that the little hole would never become a big hole. Nevertheless, as things always go, nature prevailed and the hole kept growing into a much bigger hole because patching really doesn't work.  

In these complex times, we wonder how in the world will we fix this hole? We know it will take lots of time, effort and expertise by the entire leadership road crew, using the right materials, and the right weather to fix this big hole. 

In the grand scheme of things, taking this pothole and turning it into the US economy, the virtue of collaboration will be tested, capitalism will be tested, the entire United States will be tested. Every individual and every community will be tested to see if we have the strength to come through this crisis whole.

The Panel

At the Harvard Business School Centennial Ben and I attended a couple of weeks ago, the Global Business Summit, we had access to some of the most powerful “teachers” in the world. From Professors, to CEOs of some of the world’s largest companies, to powerful philanthropists and politicians, we took in every word and marveled at the quality of knowledge on that campus for two and a half days.

Leave it to Emmy Award winning PBS journalist Charlie Rose to lead an interesting panel discussion on “Leadership for the 21st Century”.  Included in the Panel were Meg Whitman, former CEO of Ebay, Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman of GE, John Doerr, Partner at the venture capital firm Leiner Perkins Caufiled & Byers, Anand Mahindra, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Mahindra & Mahindra, Ltd. In Mumbai, and James Wolfensohn, Past President of the World Bank, Advisor to CITI, and Chairman of Wolfensohn & Company , LLC.

“Don’t bet against America….people are working round the clock” to get through this crisis, said Charlie Rose. “ He posed great questions. In these complex times, how do we approach the future?  What price do we pay for prosperity?  What lessons can we learn from the past?  "The world needs leadership now.”

Rose expertly guided the Panel through many issues, some of which I would like to share with you.  He stated that US should take a more all-inclusive role in the world.  Some foreign diplomats have accused the US of acting alone without including other countries in their decision-making.  Besides causing friction and resentment, this practice isolates the United States form the rest of the world.  In a recent interview with a noted Russian diplomat, the diplomat told Rose that the right way to work together as a globally connected world is to consult, ask, and then collaborate.


What are our priorities? 

According to Meg Whitman, our priorities are:

1)      To attain energy independence (getting off fossil fuels).

2)      To stabalize the national debt and so revenue is more than cost.

3)      Shore up our education system.

4)      Growth of the economy – including free trade, small buisness growth, and small taxes.

She added that we must act now, because the consequences of inaction are great.  To do this we must “enfranchise the people into the solution.”  We need to make sure we explain to them what exactly happened and why.  Leaders need to communicate and tell the truth to inspire confidence so that we can pull out of this. She said "with an explanation, good leadership, and inspiration we can do it".

To maintain our position in the world, Whitman said.  The US must continue to encourage a public/private relationship to accelerate change, especially in the energy sector.  Unlocking the credit system was exactly the right thing to do.


Jeffry Immelt agrees stating that the four pilars of society are:

1)      Education

2)      Health

3)      Energy policy

4)      Economy


Immelt said the United States needs to fix liquidity to make sure that our global capicity keeps moving forward in order to pull out of this downturn.  Lack of liquidity and no buying on the part of comsumers causes a sluggish recovery.

On another interesting note he said, “If you fly from New York to Shanghai, it’s hard to see which one is the emerging nation.” OK - so that was a huge comment that threw me off guard.  He suggested that everyone in this country has to pitch in and work like mad to compete with the rest of the world.  No sitting back on your laurels anymore USA.  We need to stop the housing drop and help get dollars flowing between banks.

Stop spending

James Wolfensohn informed us that there is currently $13 Trillion in household debt in the USA.  Even more frightening, the value of household debt to equity is 130%. Just a few years ago, the percentage was much less…. 100%. 

“We spend more than we earn and we are not a “saving” society.”  Until we start saving, we will not grow.  This is at the root of our problems in this country.

He cited that 70% of Americans own homes. But that 10% of all homes have no equity value. “We must change our culture or we are finished,” said Wolfenshon.

In addition, with today’s interconnected world, a ripple effect of any crisis can circle the globe.  This could be called the butterfly effect.  In light of this, what is the true value of our assets?  Are governments doing the right thing to nationalize banks around the world?  He suggests we calm our fears and the private sector will come back.

Bits and Bytes, Drugs and Bugs, and Green

John Doerr, as a venture capitalist, has invested in many creative and successful entrepreneurs.  He reminded us that although there is a credit crisis, American innovation is still racing ahead.  We must continue to invest in innovative projects even in a sluggish economy. 

Regarding the environment, he added, “You can bail out the economy but you cannot bail out the environment”.  

Doerr introduced us to the 3 B’s - Borrow, Buy and Burn.  We Borrow money from China to Buy oil from the Middle East and then we Burn it!  Crazy isn’t it?

Historically the US government invested in entrepreneurial growth in this country.  The original developer of the Internet, the government has been missing in action for years, chosing not to invest in research and development.  We need to encourage the government to be part of and invest in the future growth of this country.

Educate, educate, and educate 

Rose also noted that should the US encourage talent from overseas to attend our schools, and then “stamp a green card on their diploma”. Some of America’s greatest innovators and scientists came from abroad.  Today we are restricting talent from coming in and those that do, go back home with their pricey education to compliment innovation in their own country.  

By this practice, we are losing out.  James Wolfensohn added, “We must look at our education system”, he said. “The center of the intellectual and economic activity, which was once the United States, is moving east.  It is no longer a transatlantic world, it’s a global world." And we are competing in it.

Just push RESET

Anand Mahindra said there is no reason to deisgn an entirely new world order. Instead, he suggested pushing the RESET button will do the trick.  He noted the virtues of collaboration and the resilience of humanity when we build good solid relationships.  He added that the wrong thing for the US to do in this crisis is to go into its shell. He also noted that Indians still love America. YAY!

Leaders on leadership

Meg Whitman defines leadership as vision, people and priorities

1)      A leader has the ability to paint a vision of where one wants to go.

2)      A leader can prioritize the initiatives to get you there.

3)      A leader knows how to build the right team.

4)      A leader holds that team accountable for results.

Jeffrey Immelt defines the characteristics of a leader

1)      A leader must be decisive in order to make decisions.

2)      A leader must always be accountable, meaning that he/she must admit and always tell the truth.

3)      A leader must be transparent.

4)      A leader must instill unity because people want to be part of something that is about the future.

5)      A leader must be able to take an intense journey into themselves. This process of renewal will tell you how much you want to learn, give, change, and stengthen confidence.

 John Doerr talks about entrepreneurs and leadership

1)      Entrepreneurs learn to do more with less. They rely on ideas.

2)      Good leaders are innovative.

3)      Leaders understand that execution is everything.

4)      Leaders know that teams win.

5)      Leaders must communicate and learn to think on their feet.

6)      Leaders understand that character is judged by integrity. It’s like holding grains of sand in your hand carefully so you don’t spread your fingers so the sand slips away.

What do we do now that we are in this mess?  How do we bring confidence back?

We must learn to make better decisions.  This includes learning when to save, when to spend, when to use credit… these are all important lessons that we could learn in our schools.  We need to educate our children and our adults with liberal arts, logic, history, fine arts, practical lessons, and decision-making skills that will enhance our communities.  And for sure…. this story about the hole and how we will dig out of it should go down in the history books, so that future generations will not repeat our mistakes and then fall back into a new hole. 

In this coming election, do your duty and vote.  No skipping out this time. Our entire future depends on our next president and his support system. 

Support an inclusive leader who has the strength to accurately define the problems our nation faces and then has the guts to ask our citizens to work together to cooperate in the solution, knowing that we must all sacrifice before we get to the end of our path.  It took us a long time to get here and it will take even longer to fix it.

Instilling fear with negative rhetoric, and using exageration and sarcasm to paint frightening pictures is not acceptable.  Fear will only bring our great country to its knees.

Our world is tightly-knit together and requires that we elect a leader who can be respected and heard by those in other countries.  In turn, we must elect a leader who has the ability to respect others and patiently listen to their ideas in order to create win-win collaborations.  

We need to make it attractive for great brains to want to serve our country.  We must forge ahead with all the intellectual capacity we have access to to help build a greater tomorrow for the world.

This is my job.  I pass on knowledge, skills, and traditions; share leadership skills and the ability to think clearly; and help to expand horizons by sharing awareness of the world and it’s beautiful /colorful citizens through the right to understand history and life.  This is your job too. Vote for a great leader on November 4, 2008.

To hear this Panel discussion in detail, go to


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