As CEOs navigate unprecedented expectations from a diverse set of interest holders, their ‘courage’ is being tested and evaluated by the moment. Faced with identity politics, populism, the democratisation of influence and the ‘age of rage’, business – like no other societal institution – is being summoned to lead in new and challenging ways. And the greater the outrage, the more immediate and comprehensive organisational action must be. Exhibit A: Walt Disney Co.’s all but instant cancellation of the popular sitcom ‘Roseanne’ in the wake of the actor’s abhorrent and vile racist tweet. And Exhibit B: Google’s recent decision not to renew its contract with the US Department of Defense in 2019 after employees raised concerns about ‘being in the business of war’.

In the last 18 months alone, CEOs have championed visible positions on vexing cultural, social, political, economic and policy debates. This zeitgeist for business leadership is labelled ‘CEO activism’. And this new operating reality, particularly in the United States, all but forces businesses and their CEOs to take a side on some of the most contentious societal issues. Some CEOs are going it alone. Others are confederating with business groups and many are opting out. But no matter the scenario, business is expected uniformly to lead today’s change agendas.

Jul-Sep 2018 Issue