Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor
stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his
delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and
night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit
in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
~ Psalm 1:1-3 English Standard Version
The DeVoe School of Business (DSB) has been researching and asking a fundamental and vitally important question for business leadership:
How do leaders of a business build a virtuous culture, which is reflected throughout their business?
In the forthcoming issue of The DeVoe Report,[i] two case studies are presented that deal with this question. The case studies review the building of a culture of virtue in the firms and the tensions and challenges of maintaining the established culture. Some of the main lessons from the case studies are that leadership needs to constantly focus on maintaining virtue; the job is never done and there will be continual challenges brought about by changing business conditions.
Interestingly, a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article written by Dacher Keltner (2016) touched on the challenge of leadership and maintaining virtue. He states that
While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing, when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade. (Kettner, 2016, p. 112)[ii]
Keltner called this phenomenon a “power paradox.” Evidence to support this notion include psychological studies which suggest that individuals who are put into positions of power are likely to change their behavior and become more self-serving. Examples of empirical studies cited the fact that drivers of luxury cars were significantly less likely to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks than drivers of non-luxury cars. A study relevant to business education in the HBR article cited Miller and Xu, who reported a difference in self-serving behavior of business leaders who have MBA degrees compared with non-MBA business leaders. The results of the study were based on a large sampling of CEOs. They found that corporate leaders with MBA degrees were more apt to engage in self-serving behavior that benefits themselves but disadvantages their companies, as compared with non-MBA CEOs.
Such results certainly raise a serious challenge for maintaining virtue in a business; however, there is a central countervailing influence when businesses adopt a model of virtue. Virtuous businesses are based upon the biblical principles of service and stewardship. In our leadership interviews for The DeVoe Report case studies, these themes were constantly used to test business decisions. The executive leaders raised the question:
Does this decision or action by the business serve to improve society and does it reflect wise stewardship of the resources God has provided?
Our research findings also revealed that business leaders who are dedicated to building and maintaining a culture of virtue approached their decision making from the perspective of seeking counsel from trusted associates and the Bible. Wise counsel and biblical discernment are fundamental elements in their daily decision-making process.
Additionally, virtuous leaders reported that they spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on questions of ethical leadership, and they often mentioned prayer time as being vital to their conduct in leading the firm. Furthermore, there were a number of examples identified to indicate these leaders show gratitude and view themselves as being a part of a team.
Lastly, difficulties and challenges were also frequently mentioned in our interviews with the corporate leaders. Their businesses—like all other businesses—face competitive and efficiency standards. Thus, the research results do not imply there are no risks or tensions faced by these leaders; rather, the revelation is that the CEOs continually endeavor to focus on maintaining virtue amid the daily obstacles and pressures of running a successful business.
In conclusion, the leaders daily seek wise counsel and biblical discernment, reflect on questions of ethical leadership, spend time in prayer, show gratitude, and view themselves as a team player in order to lead virtuously, create and maintain a virtuous corporate culture, and to positively impact daily decision making. And while it is clear that virtuous business leadership is a never-ending and challenging process, it is also abundantly clear that to “stay the course” is the only way to achieve lasting results.
[i] The DeVoe Report is a business journal published in print and electronic form by the DeVoe School of Business. The first issue is scheduled for release by early-February 2017.
[ii] Keltner, D. (2016, October). Don’t let power corrupt you. How to rise to the top without losing the virtues that got you there. Harvard Business Review, 94 (10), 112-115. Retrieved from http://www.hbr.org