Thursday, August 28, 2014

Servant Leadership Christianized

Although servanthood is a very important biblical concept for leadership, according to Richard Higginson, the role of servant “is not reserved only for those who are leaders. Christians in general are “servants of God” and are expected to serve other people.”[1] Moreover, to be ethical in a servant style is not distinctly Christian; leaders who are not Christian can nonetheless operate as servants. The term servant does not in itself have a religious connotation. Yet under theological auspices, a distinctly theological sense of servant leadership can be understood and practiced. I contend that such servant leadership is something more than the notion that has been popularized.

The complete essay is at “Servant Leadership Christianized

[1] Richard Higginson, Transforming Leadership: A Christian Approach to Management (SPEK: London, 1996), p. 48.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Biblical Basis for Integrity in a Business Leader

For Christian and Jewish business leaders, integrity can have considerably more depth than merely consistency between word and deed. In the Bible, a sustained adherence to substantive ethical principles is part of integrity. To be sure, this could be said of integrity from a non-religious, or secular, standpoint. The Bible adds a consistency whose nature transcends ethics, and thus adds a deeper dimension available to those leaders who are people of the book.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Religion in Ethical Leadership in the Secular Context of Business

In Peter Berger's terms, the sacred and the profane are like oil and water. In Augustine's terms, the heavenly and earthly kingdoms are two distinct realms, a Christian being only a pilgrim passing through the latter, hence not to be "of it" while in it. I contend that such "white and black" dichotomies are artificial, and thus ill-fitting as paradigms in which to situate religion and ethical business leadership. Perhaps a devoutly religious CEO can unabashedly apply ethical elements of his or her religion without severing them from their theological underpinnings, and therefore without the need for subterfuge. I suspect that the legions of the CEO's subordinates would feel more, rather than less, respected. 

I bristle at the notion that Servant Leadership is distinctly or uniquely Christian. Gandhi, for example, intentionally borrowed from Jesus's teachings as well as Jain ethics to forge active non-violent protest. A leader of a business can genuinely be a servant, internally as well as in his or her conduct, without connecting the ethics to the distinctly Christian theological concept of agape--self-emptying love even unto the Cross. By the way, John D. Rockefeller viewed himself as a Christ figure in saving refiners from the destructive competition that had so ravaged the industry in the 1860s and early 1870s. He also likened himself to Noah--his Standard Oil being like an ark. Yet neither Noah nor Jesus killed the people (or animals) unwilling to be saved. "Save me from the followers of the Redeemer!" Nietzsche exclaims.

Interestingly, employees of a business leader who feels deeply the call of his or her faith on Monday rather than merely on Sunday may actually urge the CEO to apply his faith at full-throttle, rather than selectively as Rockefeller did. As distinctively Christian (meaning shaped by distinct theological concepts), though still respecting the otherness of the others rather than trying to convert them, Christian ethics at the helm need not be a threat, whether implicitly or in practice. A well-grounded, distinctive ethics can actually protect rather than threaten secular followers. In other words, I don't think Greenleaf's wan notion of servant leadership goes far enough because the secular exterior is in want of its native theological content. Ironically, the restoration of a vertical alignment would render the ethics stronger, and thus more rather than less in the interest of followers and even exterior stakeholder groups. 

Perhaps the optimal recipe consists of integration not only of word and deed and of interior and exterior, but also of ethics and the undergirding theology (which gives the ethical edifice a more refined shape). Pitfalls do indeed exist; but with respect for both the religious and secular integrities of followers, tension can be obviated. "Be whom you are," similar to the Buddhist preachment of being in the moment, is inherently respect-gathering, I submit, as long as the personal space of others is respected unconditionally too. 

caritas naturalis (seu agape), seu benevolentia universalis

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Religious Sources of Business Ethics: How Far Along Are We?

If Business Ethics for Dummies is any indication, the topic of religious sources for business ethics must have gained steam through the first decade of the twenty-first century. Increasing interest in such a topic in the midst of modernity is ironic, or counter-intuitive. For philosophers without any degrees in religion, the temptation might be to dilettante over to this topic in order to proffer an opinion. The result for the rest of us could well be a false sense of the extent of knowledge on the topic.

In Business Ethics for Dummies, Norman Bowie—a philosopher assisted by a journalist who has written other for Dummies books—discusses topics in several religions to demonstrate how they can be relevant to business ethics. With regard to Christianity, Bowie starts out on most solid ground in pointing to how Goldman Sachs has violated the Golden Rule. Specifically, the bank sold mortgage-based bonds (e.g. Timberwolf) that the bankers admitted internally were “crap” and shorted in proprietary trading even as Goldman sales people were selling the securities to clients. It is unlikely that the people at Goldman would have relished being misled on something they were sold.

In terms of the Ten Commandments, Bowie wonders whether it is for Jews only. He concludes that not stealing, lying, or envying others’ possessions is consistent with business ethics. It is questionable how useful such a platitude might be to actual business practitioners.

On the topic of Biblical teachings on wealth, Bowie opines that “the ethical teachings in the [Bible] can and should be consistent with normal business practices” (p. 27). To get to this conclusion, he suggests that Abraham established the concept of private property by purchasing a burial site for his wife, Sarah. Bowie even suggests that the exchanged evinces the essence of all business transactions.

Regarding the rich man getting through the eye of the needle, Bowie discounts the typical conclusion that Jesus was pointing to a dichotomy between being wealthy and being saved by interpreting Jesus’ statement—“With God all things are possible”—as meaning that the rich can indeed enter the Kingdom of God. Bowie will only admit that the Bible “discourages greed and the excessive accumulation of wealth and encourages generosity” (p. 28). The philosopher sidesteps the tension or outright contradiction between the rich man getting through the eye of the needle (a view that was salient in early Christianity) and the virtues of liberality and magnificence (which were salient in the Renaissance). Such tension, which is discussed in my published treatise, Godliness & Greed (for academic readers), assumes that the two virtues require continued wealth (to be given away in on-going philanthropy) rather than simply involving a once-and-for-all getting rid of all of one’s possessions before following Christ. That the “eye of the needle” story and the Christian virtues requiring wealth have each been dominant at different points in the history of Christian thought is missed by Bowie’s blanket statement on a definitive Biblical position on greed, excessive wealth, and generosity.

With regard to polytheistic religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, Bowie claims that because they “believe in more than one god,” they “place more emphasis on individual actions and thoughts in the quest for enlightenment or elevation to the next plane of existence” (p. 32). Would not having more gods to call on reduce the reliance on the human’s actions and thoughts? I can find no credible basis for Bowie’s assertion.

In terms of Buddhism in particular, Bowie brackets Theravada Buddhism wherein only poor monks can be enlightened and concludes that for the lay Buddhists having wealth sans attachment is consistent with enlightenment. However, by including hoarding in attachment, Bowie implicates wealth itself.

Turning to Hinduism, Bowie contends that the religion is relevant in being reduced to its non-dualist (i.e., monist) Advaita Vedanta school’s “all in one, one in all” principle.  “Hinduism teaches that all beings and things are both themselves and all other beings and things. Thus, the rationale for treating others well is really one of self-interest; if you hurt someone else, you hurt yourself. Because everything is made of the same essence, you are everything in the world and everything in the world is you” (p. 33). Bowie concludes that business and profit-making are not considered bad according to Hindu teachings.

Bowie succumbs to a fallacy, however, in assuming that something else is me just because it has the same substance. A cat and I am both made out of Brahman, but this is not to say that I am the cat or that I’m hurt when the cat is hurt. In other words, everything in the world is made of the same stuff, but that does not mean that the specific entity that is me extends to the world. There is a difference between saying that everything is made of the same thing and that everything is me. Compassion in Hinduism stems from the former rather than the latter. Furthermore, Bowie over-extends the business term of self-interest in applying it to his misconception of the Hindu monist teaching that Atman (soul) is Brahman.

Generally speaking, uncovering possible religious sources of business ethics cannot be made easier by re-casting those sources in business terms, nor should the task be compromised by glossing over religious teachings from the exterior vantage-point of philosophy.

To be sure, dilettantism is not unusual in the field of business ethics. Management scholars tend to become philosophers (sometimes even without a single course in ethical theory) and both management and philosophy scholars may become political scientists as the field of business & government (e.g. regulation) is typically lumped in with business ethics. Furthermore, sociology is often “picked up” on the cuff as social norms are salient in the field of business & society (e.g., CSR), which is also lumped in with business ethics. It is as if getting a doctorate in management, philosophy, political science, or sociology (and now religious studies) gives the holder a pass in any of these other disciplines under the cover of “multidisciplinary.” The proof is in the pudding, however, as evinced in the shoddy writing of “scholars” who venture too far from their native fauna. Perhaps even more than intelligence, self-restraint is necessary for solid scholarship.


Norman Bowie and Meg Schneider, Business Ethics for Dummies (New York: Wiley, 2011).

I am currently writing a non-fiction book on this topic because my academic text, "Godliness and Greed," is oriented to scholars and students of Christian as well as business ethics.