I was recently in attendance for a rare event in my busy life - a book discussion. Our family is fortunate that our three boys are attending a school that not only challenges its students mentally and physically, but also promotes the engagement of the entire family unit. Our school’s headmaster led an engaging discussion on a book that will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year: Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude Steele who currently serves as Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.
Steele’s book provides a thorough deep dive into the fascinating albeit alarming science around stereotypes and stereotype threat. I started the book not knowing what to expect, but by the end of the first chapter, I was absolutely hooked. Spoiler alert - Dr. Steele cleverly weaves a story into the first chapter that truly engages the reader to think differently about stereotypes. Dr. Steele presents a plethora of scientific studies that demonstrate the very real impacts of stereotype threat. The studies give concrete evidence of how affected groups suffer psychologically with poor test performance despite being well-prepared, and even physiologically in the case of increased blood pressure, while under the threat of stereotype. The final chapters of the book present the reader with actionable suggestions on how to reduce the impact of stereotype threat. Dr. Steele persuades the reader to think and then execute our actions with the “actor’s perspective” in mind. We must think beyond our own observations if we can hope to maximise the potential for all of us.
For me, the most interesting part of a book discussion is learning about the other perspectives of my fellow readers. The most insightful comment came from another father who is proudly African-American. He said that, regardless of our differing reactions to stereotype threat, we should all observe the truth by always invoking the actor’s perspective and to act on that truth with accountability.
In the weeks leading up to the book discussion, I had been thinking quite a bit about accountability. Starting late last year, I began a new journey by engaging a leadership coach who is literally halfway around the world, thanks to the awesomeness of today’s technology. Gavin, my coach, started out by challenging me to reflect and then journal every day. For the last weeks, I have been fastidiously reviewing my successes, my challenges, my habits, and my energy levels on a daily and weekly basis. What I found almost immediately was that I was able to quickly identify the miscellaneous foibles of the day almost as soon as they would happen. Through my daily journaling, I was becoming more aware of each of my missteps, and I knew that each of these learning opportunities would become a new journal observation in that evening’s write up.
But my learning did not stop there. In the days that followed, I observed that when faced with an opportunity to make a habitual misstep, I was beginning to slow down in my decision process and catch myself before I stepped out of line. I was beginning to hold myself accountable for my actions, pausing before I chose an easy or habitual manner of decision. This newfound sense of accountability has been both powerful and humbling. Too many years, I have raced through my days, relying on instincts - both good and bad - and in effect throwing caution to the wind in a way that was not consistently in alignment with my medium and long term goals. The future is brighter; it must be a new dawn we are facing.
I hope to write more about my leadership journey in the future, but for now, the focus of this segment is accountability, not just for me personally but also for the industry at large. I recently had an opportunity to attend the Sustainable Innovation Forum on the doorstep of the COP25 conference in Madrid. At this summit, there was no shortage of CEOs and public officials who were willing to make bold predictions about the climate positive results that they will see in 2030 or even 2050. One of the speakers challenged this trend, saying that most of these leaders will not be around to see these days of the future. Without action today and a clear plan for the months, years, and decades to come, a 2050 declaration is like a loan with no down payment. In the age of climate action, the public is no longer asking for claims, the public is demanding action - and accountability.
One exciting change that we have started to see in the conversations that we have with our customers is that a growing number of businesses are beginning to give their leadership teams financial incentives to meet sustainability targets. These companies are putting their money to work and society will be the beneficiary. Executive compensation is a fantastic lever to use for the greater good. Executives must hold themselves and their teams accountable if they stand any chance of making their targets. But, no business will be issuing executive incentive plans that neglect the bottom-line health of the company. Therefore, savvy and sustainable businesses must search out solutions that not only protect our ecosystems but also save on the expense side of the balance sheet.
So here is a call to action for today’s business leaders who want to see their photo next to bold claims of climate action two or three decades from now.
First - Be Bold - Make bold statements. Create bold visions. We will not evolve without bold visions and then bold actions.
Second - Seek Truth - To achieve a bold vision, leaders must seek clarity. Leaders cannot act based on observation alone but must choose the course through the perspective of the actor.
Finally - Embrace Accountability - The path to a bold vision is only made through a consistent series of focused plans and accountable actions. As leaders, we must continue to observe our own actions and the results that they engender. We must be accountable.
True accountability establishes a solid foundation for growth and enables future generations to carry our visions beyond. The alternative to accountable actions is that we simply take what we can get and we build a false wealth that will die with us.
I am quite proud to work for a company that offers forward-thinking businesses the opportunity to exercise a bold vision on sustainability and simultaneously innovate to meet their company’s financial goals. Our commitment to sustainable high performance computing allows our customers to ensure that their bold visions are backed up with accountable actions. Our managed colocation and cloud solutions make it simple to connect the most powerful computing resources directly to a 100% renewably powered grid that is the cleanest on the planet, all while benefiting from ambient free cooling thanks to the favourable conditions outside of our secure data center campuses.
We are proud to partner with our customers as they make the commitment to ensure that future innovations are built on a solid foundation of accountability. Just as Dr. Steele presents a societal threat that might otherwise go conveniently unnoticed, we must go beyond simple observation and acknowledge our climate threat. We must lead, we must innovate, and most importantly we must hold ourselves accountable to act in tangible ways that create a foundation of sustainability for the future.
Tate Cantrell - CTO at Verne Global: firstname.lastname@example.org