Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit—and a bold culture

By Andy Sieg, Managing Director, Bank of America Merrill Lynch |  Sep 29, 2014


This article was originally published as sponsor-generated content on POLITICO as part of the editorial series, Lessons from Leaders, presented by Bank of America.

In our first installment of this new series highlighting personal perspectives on leadership, we’ve asked Andy Sieg, a managing director at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, to offer his point of view.

Among the qualities that characterize U.S. business leadership, one has been prominent throughout our history — and that is ingenuity. Our ability to imagine the world in ways that are new, compelling and better is part of our cultural DNA, from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison to Eleanor Roosevelt. Fast forward to the 21st century. We can see how our entrepreneurial spirit continues to produce new wonders—such as healthcare innovation, 3-D printing and energy sustainability—that transform our lives ever more rapidly. In fact, our ability to lead by encouraging ingenuity may well be America’s greatest strength as we compete to create the jobs and markets of the future.

Great leaders know how to allow ingenuity to flourish within their organizations. They understand that innovation and entrepreneurship have been the bedrock of our country’s history, driving new wonders and changing people’s lives around the globe. Great leaders foster a culture of resourcefulness and initiative—encouraging their employees to think big—with the understanding that if something is best for their clients, it is therefore good for their businesses. They also understand how ingenuity can benefit the country, creating new jobs and driving the markets of the future.

Fostering an entrepreneurial spirit—and a bold culture—also allows organizations and their employees to connect their efforts with a higher purpose. And that’s exactly what people expect from the companies they do business with today. People no longer want companies to sell them products, but to help make their lives more interesting, vital, healthy, fulfilled and secure—in a word, better. What’s more, employees are more engaged when they are encouraged to challenge the status quo, and embrace change. In the most dynamic of corporate cultures, leaders urge their employees to get outside their four walls and listen to their clients.

No one is happy with the status quo, whether it’s inside the Beltway, in our schools or on Wall Street. People are constantly looking for new solutions. In the financial services industry, we have heard this loud and clear. Increasingly, more people are seeking out investment opportunities that allow their financial decisions to generate both social benefits and, potentially, financial returns—all while reflecting a higher purpose. This includes, for example, investment opportunities such as social-impact bonds, which provide capital to non-profits that finance programs with proven track records of success, to green bonds that allow clients to direct their investments toward projects like alternative energy installations. In this era of stretched government budgets, social-impact investing provides a way for our nation to improve and expand programs that help our citizens in need.

This is just one example of how creative thinking and leadership can help us address the issues we face in our nation and our world. Despite continual challenges over more than two centuries, the American people have proven time and again that ingenuity fosters greater optimism. At the same time, optimism also fosters ingenuity, creating a virtuous cycle of innovation and growth. That’s just as true today—because we still have the courage and resilience to meet any challenge, particularly as we lead with purpose.

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