Confidence, C-suite, and sustainability

Appearing in In The Black magazine, September 2020

Perfectly Confident: How To Calibrate Your Decisions Wisely
By Don Moore
HarperCollins Publishers, 272 pages, $65

When does an excess of confidence lead to bad decisions and likely failure? Equally, when does a lack of confidence lead to missed opportunities and personal stagnation? Moore, an academic who has studied both confidence and managerial decision-making, is interested in processes to find the optimal path. In this book he brings together studies from psychology and behavioural economics to define an appropriate level of confidence and how it can be utilised.

He mixes anecdotes and scientific evidence to develop a series of tests that can define choices and focus decisions. He shows how to avoid wishful thinking and to reconsider underlying assumptions. Do not be fooled by the apparent confidence of others, he advises, and look around to see what other informed, rational people are doing. At the same time, understand your goal and map the likely means to achieve it.

Generally, he sees over-confidence as more likely than under-confidence to lead to poor outcomes, and believes that most people over-rate their decision-making wisdom. But he makes clear that risks should not be avoided on principle. The point is to be able to assess risk in an objective, clear-minded way: what Moore calls “probabilistic thinking”. It adds up to a useful, entertaining package.

Crack the C-Suite Code: How Successful Leaders Make It To The Top 
Cassndra Frangos
Wharton School Press, $29, 116 pages

Frangos has extensive experience as a high-level business coach and she draws on it to examine how people reach the senior positions, especially the CEO role, in large corporates. She sees four typical paths, with each having advantages and problems. The most common, The Tenured Executive, is the path of working relentlessly up through the ranks. It means a deep understanding of the corporate culture but the downside can mean a lack of awareness of the external environment.

The Free Agent, on the other hand, is brought in from outside, usually to implement a reform agenda. The Leapfrog Leader, the newest route to the top, is a younger person who is selected from several levels down and catapulted into the big chair, also as a change agent.

The final route is the Founder. The idea is essentially about creating an organisation to lead. The rewards can be great but the risks are high.

Despite the different paths Frangos sees a core repertoire of skills and competencies, albeit in different measures. There must be an ability to manage uncertainty, a depth of resilience, deep sector expertise, networking skills and personal brand-building. Frangos adds another: self-awareness. Without that, she says, nothing else really matters.

Integrated Sustainability Reporting: Linking Environmental and Social Information to Value Creation Processes
By Laura Bini and Marco Bellucci
Springer, $128, 150 pages

Sustainability issues have moved into a central position in financial reporting but so far the approach has been largely additive and piecemeal. This book proposes an alternative, where the reporting of environmental, social and economic issues is sequential, but separate, to financial disclosures. Bini and Belluci argue that a company should explicitly report on how environmental and social issues impact its way of doing business, especially its business model. The reporting framework they present is meant to show the link between sustainability and value creation in a way that is accessible to stakeholders.

Along the way, Bini and Belluci provide a broad analysis of corporate sustainability reporting, including a discussion of the theoretical background and an explanation of why companies undertake sustainability reporting.

They also provide several case studies. The examination of H&M shows both the need for sustainability reporting and the difficulty in connecting it to a business model. The company admits there is a large gap between goals and execution, and acknowledges the need to constantly revise and improve disclosure methods as well as on-the-ground actions.

A bonus of this book is the extensive bibliography, which would be a valuable reference for researchers, students, and others interested in the sustainability field.

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