I've gotten myself into some pretty hot water with readers because of some of the controversial issues I've written about in this blog. So why not just go all the way and raise the question of the role that eternal principles that have come to us from God should play in the workplace?
I had an interesting conversation last week with Dave Anderson, a car-salesman-turned-leadership-guru and author of the book, "How to Run Your Business by The Book-Revised and Expanded: A Biblical Blueprint to Bless Your Business." Judging from some YouTube videos I came across and my phone conversation with him, Anderson has the presence of a TV evangelist. The congregation he aims to preach to is people who have leadership positions in business.
The thrust of Anderson's message is that if you really want to excel as a business leader, your best bet is to forget the latest management fad and focus on leading in accordance with eternal principles that can be found in the Bible. He's not crazy about referring to these as "spiritual" principles, because, he says, "there are so many different forms" of spirituality. He is happy with "divinely inspired" principles, though.
Anderson has said that what we really need right now as we weather the economic storm is an "ethical bailout," and I told him I couldn't agree more. I asked him if there's any way for an ethical bailout-which to me means a focus on and greater appreciation of ethical behavior in business-to be accomplished without turning to these divinely inspired leadership principles. He said he hates to say, "never," but he really doesn't believe so:
The world's way of doing things so often conflicts with these Biblical or divinely-inspired leadership principles. They're motivated by more short-term thinking-what's good for me, what's good for now, what's good for the bottom line. I really believe that divinely-inspired principles take a longer view. And in order to get an ethical bailout, we have to just stop worrying about what's good for us, what's good for now, what's good for today, and apply these eternal principles that really help us grow things over the long haul. So I don't believe that it's possible, in any sustainable or measurable manner, without these principles at work.
I asked him if he envisions a time when it will be the norm for companies to be led in accordance with these divinely inspired principles, and if so, what has to happen between now and then to make that happen. Unfortunately, he said, he does not:
If you look at the trend, the world is getting more tolerant of "anything goes," it's not becoming less tolerant. It's becoming more inclusive of things that just a few years ago were considered just abhorrent. So unfortunately, I don't see a widespread trend going this way. I do see encouragement, in that good, moral leaders who have some basic understanding of these principles -- that maybe have dabbled with this trend, or that fad, or that flavor of the month that the world chases after, and realized that it's really not sustainable, it's really not the way to go -- will return to these principles. I think it's really going to help them stand out. I think these principles help create a unique culture, and for the companies that do adopt them-while I'm not starry-eyed and believe it's going to be on any widespread basis, just because of the influences of the world-it's going to create a very unique culture, and attract a very high-caliber person and customer who want to be associated with these principles and this way of doing business. These are not new principles. These are principles that have stood the test of time, that have applied in various situations over the millennia, and they work. We just need to take them and apply them.
Anderson has spoken about how we can learn from the leadership of Gandhi and the wisdom of Buddha, so I asked him if he would put the principles they espouse in a different category from the principles he writes about in his book, which have their roots in the Bible. His response:
Men and women like that may have had different religious beliefs, but some principles transcend religion. There are very similar proverbs and beliefs in various religions. So they're different in the respect that they're representative of a different belief, but I do believe these are eternal principles that transcend different religions and denominations. To me, that makes them even more powerful.
So I decided to push the envelope and ask him what his response is to those who would say that the principles espoused by the Founders of all of the world's great religions are the same and all come from one God. The point of the question was to get his view on whether the Bible is the sole source of these eternal principles. His response:
I don't believe they're all the same. There are some that are similar that show up, and there are some that are very, very different. There are some glaring differences, which is where religions start to come to the fork in the road and go one way or the other. For a while, some of them can run parallel-most religions can agree on a handful of things. But they really start to separate, especially when you get into the divinity of Christ. That's where you see separation. Frankly, some of the greatest principles that I talk about in the book were from Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, He basically laid out core values for the Christian Faith. And a lot of those core values can be adapted into our lives and into our businesses. So there is some common ground, but then there are some deep divisions as it goes on.
So what do you think? Is the Bible the ideal "how-to" manual for business leaders? Has God made these principles known to mankind through vehicles other than the Bible? And is this a legitimate topic in a discussion of corporate leadership?