Carol Stephenson is Dean, Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario.

In the aftermath of the dot com bust and the bursting of the telecom bubble in the late 1990s, I gave dozens of speeches about my experience as the President and CEO of Lucent Technologies Canada. People wanted to know what it was like to enjoy the exuberance of the ride up and the shock of the ride down as the company’s share price dropped from $75 to $7 and its size was cut in half. They wanted to understand how we maintained morale among employees when many of their colleagues lost their jobs. And they were curious about our plans to get back in the black when so many investors lost money.

In the wake of the most devastating and widespread economic crisis in recent history, this same curiosity, thirst for knowledge and drive to understand compelled Ivey to bring together more than 250 senior executive and CEOs from across the globe. Through a recent series of roundtables, held in New York, Hong Kong, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, London, Ontario and London, England, we set out to debate and dissect the current economic crisis and its implications for future business leadership. We wanted to find out what happened, why it happened and how we, as business educators, could help to make sure that it never happens again.

To set the stage for these discussions, Ivey Professors Jeffrey Gandz, Mary Crossan, Gerard Seijts, Stephen Sapp and Mark Vandenbosch, the leaders of this initiative, developed a background paper, called “Leadership on Trial.” The introduction includes four main questions:

  • “What went wrong with leadership that contributed to the 2008/9 financial crisis and the devastation to people, organizations and national economies that followed it?
  • “Was this problem with leadership confined to the few organizations at the epicenter of the financial meltdown or did this crisis reveal more broadly based problems with leadership in both private and public sectors?
  • “What can we learn from those organizations and leaders who anticipated the crisis and avoided it completely, or who coped well throughout the last couple of years and are therefore in good shape to benefit from the recovery?
  • “What more do we need to do, or do differently, to prepare the current generation of leaders to deal with the kinds of challenges that we have seen corporations, governments and not-for-profit organizations face in the last couple of years and for those – as yet unknown – that they will face in the future?”

Lively dialogue and passionate debate soon ensued as leaders from a variety of vibrant sectors – from the financial, manufacturing and high tech to the arts and government – shared their observations and lessons learned. Ivey’s professors are now analyzing these discussions to generate a set of recommendations for the development of next-generation leaders.

We want to influence the programs new leaders take, the experiences they gain, and the mentoring that will help them prepare for the inevitable leadership challenges of the future.

That’s because we believe that current economic recovery initiatives, while necessary and laudable, will only serve to deepen and delay a future collapse if not simultaneously supported by real efforts to understand the leadership and organizational issues that cut across industries and borders. As we work through this crisis and its consequences, we are determined to grasp the opportunity, to learn from it and to apply that learning to future generations of business school students and executives.

Ivey’s goal is ambitious. We want to develop a set of leadership principles – a clear and cogent statement of the essential leadership knowledge, skills and judgment that real-world leaders need to move our institutions and enterprises forward. These principles will guide our decisions as educators. We also believe they will influence the practice of leadership in many organizations in the future.

Some years ago, Orit Gadiesh, the Chairman of Bain and Company, said, “In the current environment, companies can’t afford not to have a set of guiding principles – a system of core values that communicates ‘true north’ to the entire organization.” I believe the same is true for all enterprises operating today. Moreover, in this age of cross-enterprise leadership, where borders are porous and companies are so interdependent on each other for success – business leaders collectively need a new way to understand, decide and act going forward.

This fall, Ivey will unveil our new leadership principles – our compass for moving ahead in the right direction for the future. We believe these principles will be powerful. We are excited about their great potential. And we are absolutely committed to ensuring that these principles live up to that potential. In the next edition of the Ivey Business Journal, I look forward to sharing Ivey’s new leadership principles with you.