Grenoble Ecole de Management Wants to Lead Business Schools to Economic Peace

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Educators at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) in France say now is the time to embrace the theory of economic peace.

There’s a cold wind blowing throughout the world. Since June 30, at least two publications – the Guardian and the Hill – and numerous newscasters on TV in the United States and Europe have warned of threats to democracy.

Among the reasons are online misinformation campaigns, autocratic leaders who suddenly have more power to persuade, and weakening democratic institutions and practices in the US and UK, once regarded as the authorities on democracy.

At the same time, the class divide is growing ever wider. Climate change is creating the possibility of battles for limited natural resources, and our civil discourse has reached new lows. These factors and others, which were laid out in the essay “What’s gone wrong with democracy?” in the Economist, could be planting the seeds of war.

Hungry Like the Wolf No More

One gets the sense that the wolves are everywhere, says Loïck Roche, director and dean of GEM. Wolves also come up in the book, Osons la paix economique by Dominique Steiler, a professor and chair of the Center for Mindfulness, Well-being at Work and Economic Peace at GEM.

Steiler suggests that man will be a wolf to another man when he feels endangered. If his main goal is to be the head of the pack, he will kill the others. This desire to settle for nothing short of being number one has to be supported by the greater society. “If I put you in danger, you will be dangerous, too,” warns Steiler in an interview. For years, this has been the premise upon which most successful businesses have run. Instead, however, Steiler argues that businesses help their communities prepare for peace by, in essence, teaching the wolves to share and helping them get to know one another as people.

For their part, business schools must teach future leaders how to run a business with this new mentality. The mere fact a business school has someone carrying a title such as Steiler’s is newsworthy. But it begs the question, “What is economic peace?” In part, economic peace is about domesticating the wolves. But it’s much more than that.

Providing Leaders with a New Mission

In fact, Steiler spends much time educating people on the details and how businesses can buy into this theory. And he has firsthand knowledge of war and peace; he was a fighter pilot in the French army. In his position as chair, he takes a holistic approach and sees connections between mindfulness at work and economic peace.

“Clearly, a state of war does not favor openings and prospects,” he writes on his school-sponsored website. “On the contrary, it leads us to toughen our defenses, ‘he who wants peace prepares for war!’... We are firmly opposed to this vision. We are at war, yes, but ‘he who wants peace... prepares for peace!’ And in our opinion, this peace must also be economic and must reconsider the value of work.”

In other words, businesses can’t consume themselves with the sole purpose of making money. They’ve to consider themselves part of a greater community to which they must contribute to a common good. That common good means they sometimes partner with their known competitors, and also treat their employees with empathy and humanity.

Those who want to be leaders in economic peace must be warriors for the cause. They’ve to show strength, face aggressions because this isn’t a traditional model, and take their employees, consumers, the environment, and other outside forces into consideration when making decisions, says Steiler.

Examples of Achievement

Truly, warriors for peace through business must take an entirely different approach to management, he adds. For instance, Steiler tells the story of a manager who became angry with a group of employees and then felt guilty about it. Instead of letting it go or doubling down, he apologized to the entire group.

The manager realized he made a mistake, took responsibility, and asked for forgiveness. In reality, he was weak when he was being harsh and strong when he was willing to own up to his errors, says Steiler. It’s that kind of shift in perception that clarifies the idea of promoting peace.

GEM partners with 11 businesses, such as automotive parts leader ARaymond, to promote mindfulness and economic peace as part of the center. In 2008, ARaymond faced crisis as a result of the great global recession, but its leaders decided to accept the losses without firing anyone.

They promoted non-violent communication, a mode of speaking that aims to eliminate negativity and aggression and foster the development of human values. In addition, they created a strategy based on human beings and incorporated mindfulness into their work life, and in the end, the company thrived. It went from having 2,500 employees in 2008 to 7,200 today, and also earned $1.2 billion in revenue in 2017.

A Vision That Is Greater than Yourself

Roche puts emphasis on Steiler’s promotion of economic peace because it fits perfectly with GEM’s new mission. It has evolved from business school to a school for business for society, says Roche. As always, GEM is focused on teaching students how to solve the problems of tomorrow, he explains, but now professors are also helping students build tomorrow from scratch. Ultimately, businesspeople have to use their skills to do more than line the pockets of shareholders and constantly increase the bottom line.

GEM’s other efforts to align with this mission include seeking equality among staff, offering education to migrants, and reaching zero waste by 2020. Steiler’s book is being translated to English, and he is seeking a publisher.

In addition, the center’s name will change to Center for Economic Peace, Mindfulness and Well-being at Work to reflect the changing priorities of the school’s partners and their markets. And in 2019, the school plans to launch the international trophies for economic peace to applaud those with plans to implement a relevant plan promoting these concepts within the next two years.

Ultimately, the idea is empathetic businesses will be successful and lift up the people of their community. If the people and their land are nurtured, the uprisings and conflicts will cease. Changing your approach to management and the treatment of others, not to mention yourself, will make all the difference. But people have to be willing to dramatically evolve in their perception of management and the corporate world. GEM hopes it can guide them on this journey.

“The brain is not the only leader,” reminds Steiler. “You must also speak to the heart.”

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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