Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Moral Leadership and the Marketplace

I am beginning to lend some efforts toward a couple of non-profit organizations that are seeking to have a positive impact in the marketplace, the arena in which I earn most of my living.

One, the newly-formed Marketplace Champions of Nashville, Tenn., is geared toward teaching Christian principles to business leaders and helping to spur economic development in Middle Tennessee, the U.S. and impoverished nations. I will blog more about this in the weeks to come. The second is the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions, based at Nashville's prestigious Vanderbilt University.

Cal Turner is a very successful businessman (founder of Nashville-based Dollar General Stores), a United Methodist and a Vanderbilt donor. His program seeks to facilitate more dialogue across professions such as business, medicine, law, theology, etc., regarding common moral or ethical challenges. I am helping out in various writing and speaking capacities for the time being, and my involvement with the leadership of the program has me brainstorming about some of the key moral issues--above and beyond the application of a particular faith such as Christianity--which which the professions must grapple: What are the opportunities and barriers to leading with integrity in the marketplace?

One key challenge that is often on my mind is the culture of busyness that plagues most companies and organizations. I think this has moral leadership implications. Leaders learn poor work-life balance habits while they are cutting their teeth as individual contributors. These habits are ingrained upon arriving in management, and they unwittingly begin to reproduce them in the team members they serve. Once they achieve leadership positions such as director, vice president or higher, they further replicate them in entire management teams.

The cycle is hard to break, the grip of reactivity so persistent. As a result of everyone along the organizational chart being so rushed to get things done, there is little reflective upon how effective the decisions are that are being made. And if the effectiveness of our business choices is too casually brushed aside, imagine the back burner status of the moral or ethical questions of examination: How are we impacting real people, real communities? How are we living our corporate values? In what manner are we making the world a better place? These questions remain submerged in the heart of busyness, or when voiced can seem impractical or naive.

From what I have observed of the marketplace, business decisions that are birthed through a moral and ethical womb of examination, which are allowed to incubate a little longer in order to be dissected from all angles, tend to be the more successful bottom line choices.

Morality and ethics are good for business. In today's painful economy of shattered trust in numerous institutions, investing the time in moral leadership outcomes might be the only way the marketplace can not only compete with the world but stay out of the infirmary on a regular basis.


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