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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

E.S.G. in the Boardroom: A Recipe for Confusion

What would business do without its faddish buzzwords? Is the bottom-line really so boring? Transformational leadership was once in vague, with little actual attention to raising subordinates’ moral compasses. Decades later, everything was about drivers—a power-aggrandized version of cause. Then consultants, dreaming perhaps of their kids’ little league, turned the profession into an analogy and suddenly became coaches. One difference is of course that most actual coaches have been players in their respective sports, whereas how many leadership coaches have been business executives or sat on a board? “Leadership assistant” is better, if in-house, otherwise "leadership adviser," assuming sufficient study or experience in leadership. Then amidst global warming and activist stockholders, “E.S.G.” could be heard in boardrooms with the frequency of a trope.[1] Must business be led by a herd-mentality? Such leadership is internally inconsistent, for leaders are by definition ahead of the crowd, leading it rather than squawking like lemmings. In the case of E.S.G., which stands for “environmental, social, and governance,” the chatter eclipses recognition of the befuddled condition of the combo. With such different things in the mix, it is no wonder that a study attempting to quantify E.S.G. came up with mixed results. So the metric and purportedly related financial performance may not be very useful after all.

1. Andrew Sorkin, “Can Good Corporate Citizenship Be Measured,” The New York Times, June 26, 2017.

The full essay is at "E.S.G. in the Boardroom."