Gentle Giants—21st-Century Business Communication

There exists no less offensive a beast than the giraffe. It lives peaceably with its kind for the most part and bears not the slightest degree of ill-will toward other kinds of 2animals—both of which, as character recommendations, are more than can be said about the majority of people!

—Ken Stott, Jr., former San Diego Zoo curator, 1953


We need a fresh leadership model, a twenty-first-century style that contradicts the top-down management approach that hasn’t changed much in the past seventy-five years. Leaders must strive to have a positive impact on communities because we’re increasingly connected through technology. More than ever in this country’s brief 238-year history, business requires leaders who behave like giraffes do in the wild—not simply as alert lookout posts but also as nurturing herbivores, gentle giants who forage peacefully within herds with no distinct alpha male.

The failure of the Machiavellian leadership style is that employees are viewed as puppets to be manipulated. There’s little sensitivity to employee needs except for the monetary and the egotistic, which are used as negative tools for motivation, a fundamental weakness of the style since it does not bond employees to the organization or to one another. It creates a “What’s in it for me?” mentality, and when a crisis occurs, employees bail to save themselves instead of holding on to help save the company.

Business leaders need to engage various groups of people by removing their dated industrial style to fit our times. This shift requires a genuine commitment to employees and customers by taking a respectful approach that offers encouraging words and creates a calm, productive setting that embraces a teaching philosophy. Twenty-first century leadership is an option, a selection, an intrinsic value.

It won’t work if it’s veneer.

In the article “Can P&G Make Money in Places Where People Earn $2 a Day?” Jennifer Reingold reports that on the corporate side Procter and Gamble (P&G) has invested money in research and development to learn more about the world’s poor, a developing market that is increasing from 6 percent to 8 percent annually, whereas the developed world market is rising more slowly—from 1 percent to 2 percent in 2011. CEO and Chairman Robert McDonald said that P&G’s long-term goal consists of “touching and improving more lives, in more parts of the world, more completely” in a sincere effort to increase “purpose-inspired growth.”

The company had to spend more research and development money to continue to learn about the world’s poor, the underserved, and customers who earn two dollars each day. P&G researchers helped reduce stereotypes after they spent time in homes in countries such as Brazil, China, and India. They discovered that the poor don’t want simple products but aspire for access to products such as those created for the middle class and the rich. Since they spend hours outside, they need low-cost skin-care products and shampoo rather than the harsh soap they’ve used for decades. They too wish to look beautiful at that future job interview.

P&G is taking an anthropological research method instead of the historical we-build-it-and-they-will-come marketing approach. Today P&G gets a third of its sales from developing regions, up from 20 percent in 2000. CEO Robert McDonald wants to raise that percentage to 50 percent by 2020. This revenue wouldn’t have shown up on the company’s spreadsheets if P&G’s leaders hadn’t invested time and money to learn more about the needs of the world’s poor.


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