Posts Tagged 'integrity'

Business Success

Photo Credit: nguyen-hung-vu, via flickr

Photo Credit: Nguyen Hung Vu, via flickr

The U.S. Presidential election has raised the question of what successful business is.  Is a business successful simply because it makes a lot of money?  What if the money comes through cheating customers or suppliers?  For example, is a rich person who runs a drug cartel a successful businessman?  Is someone who becomes rich, at least in part, through tax evasion, a successful businessman?

Business requires trust.  I pay money for goods or services because I believe in their value. I trust that what I am paying for is being represented accurately and is priced fairly.  Often I shop online, which requires the further trust that the product I can’t see is what it says it is and that it will come to me in a timely fashion.  I trust the seller’s promise that I can return anything that doesn’t meet my expectations and that my money will be refunded.

Business requires good relationships.  A businessperson develops relationships with suppliers and customers, convincing them that they can craft a win-win relationship.  Honesty forms the foundation of these relationships.  If a businessperson proves dishonest, suppliers and customers run in the other direction. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Businesses built on trust and good relationships contribute to the social fabric of the larger society.  Businesses lacking trust and good relationships tear the social fabric.

So, what is “success” in business?  I posit that the answer is not simply “more money.”  To be sure, a business must make money in order to survive and thrive.  Yet the purpose of business is far more than money.  Saying that the purpose of business is making money is like saying that the purpose of life is breathing.  Breathing is necessary to life, yet breathing is not the purpose of life.  The purpose of life is to love and to give.  The purpose of business is similar: to give goods and services that contribute to people’s well-being.  A successful business provides useful goods and services, operates with integrity, and thrives.

For example, Wainwright Bank in Boston, under Bob Glassman’s leadership, aspired to become the leader in lending to nonprofits.  Naysayers claimed that Wainwright Bank would suffer financially for its idealism, claiming that loans for homeless shelters and food banks are risky business.  In fact, the opposite proved true: Wainwright Bank’s community development loans totaling over $700 million experienced zero losses during the time of Bob Glassman’s leadership, in sharp contrast to other banks’ loan portfolios. I posit that Bob Glassman is an outstanding example of a successful businessman, making money and serving people in his community at the same time.

Instead of evaluating the merit of a business solely on its money-making capabilities, let us hold a higher standard for businesses.  Let us assess the value of a business not only through its financial success but through its ability to serve the community, to contribute to the well-being of the world. Our time here on earth is precious, as is our opportunity to create legacies for future generations. May the businesses we create not only thrive but also embody the highest ideals of our humanity.


Photo Credit: Raffaele Esposito via flickr

Photo Credit: Raffaele Esposito via flickr

Last week Pope Francis came to my neighborhood. While I had to follow his activities from afar since I was in Korea at the time, his visit still had a profound impact on me. When I flew home to Washington, DC a few days later, there remained a palpable sense of the Pope’s presence in the city.

During his time in Washington, DC, Pope Francis met with President Obama, addressed Congress, dined with homeless people, prayed with the U.S. bishops, canonized a new saint, and visited two churches and Catholic Charities. The media covered him constantly.

The Pope tirelessly spoke out about issues that matter to him: the arms race, climate change, his pro-life stance, homelessness, refugees. Because he doesn’t fit neatly into any one category on the U.S. political spectrum, he challenged everyone. In his address to the joint session of Congress, for example, he said:

Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

Listeners heard an audible gasp in the audience in response to these words.

At the same time that he challenged everyone, he also managed not to alienate many. He met with warm welcomes everywhere he went. He proved his reputation as the most popular Pope in history. How did he do this? In a nation of political polarization, where leaders regularly alienate their constituents, Pope Francis spoke challenging words and at the same time commanded respect.

The answer? At least part of the answer is integrity. Washington, DC is hungry for integrity. Like a breath of fresh air in a stultifying environment, Pope Francis embodied integrity. While almost no one agreed with all of his positions, everyone recognized him as a leader who walked his talk. Everyone recognized him as one who fearlessly spoke truth as he saw it, never pandering to power.

The Pope’s words and deeds align. He eats lunch with homeless people instead of with members of Congress. He travels in a Fiat instead of a limousine. He lives in simple quarters in a Vatican guest house instead of in the Papal apartments.

What would it look like if the leaders around us spoke words that aligned with their deeds? What would it look like for political leaders, for church leaders, for organizational leaders to embody the kind of integrity that Pope Francis embodies? How can your leadership, whatever your sphere of influence, embody full integrity?

May we make it our intention to bring a breath of fresh air to the stultifying environments we enter, just as Pope Francis did. May we live with integrity and inspire others to do the same.