There are a lot of virtuous circles in business. They pop up with predictable regularity in PowerPoint presentations the world over. They’re second in popularity only to Venn diagrams and maybe the two-way matrix.
Virtuous means righteous. Any circle described as virtuous infers the process being discussed is one with a cyclic effect: that after a certain sequence of behaviour you will end up back where you started but in a better situation. And each time you go around The Circle you’re making that situation better and better. Each point along the way magnifies the effect of the next, and the benefits grow.
After more than 70 years combined in the field of brand strategy, my business partner and I have seen virtuous circles for shopping habits, manufacturing methods, environmental sustainability, financial modelling — you name it. But a decade ago we stumbled across a virtuous circle about management motivation that made us stop in our tracks.
It was in a book called Authentic Leadership by Bill George. The book’s main theme is that the age-old mandate of capitalism — that you exist primarily to serve the interests of your shareholders — had led to a mutated form of free enterprise. One that was actually delivering less value. George reasoned that the path to long-term shareholder value was through CEOs embracing their own authentic vision and values, not simply taking on the increasingly self-serving motives of corporate America. George believed ...