Adapt but Remain Virtuous

“Most CEOs know they have to divide their attention among short-, medium-, and long-term perspectives, but the adaptable CEOs spent significantly more of their time—as much as 50%—thinking about the long term.”[i]
~ Botelho, Rosenkoetter Powell, Kincaid, and Wang (2017)

One of the major challenges of business leadership is adapting to new internal and external conditions.  Business leaders know that change is essential and firms that cease innovating will decline.  The key question is: What should change, and what should not?

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Botelho, Rosenkoetter Powell, Kincaid, and Wang (2017) stated, “….CEOs who excel at adapting are 6.7 times more likely to succeed” (p. 76).[ii]  One can easily question the analytical methods and estimates of the probability of success in this study but, clearly, business leadership must constantly adapt their business model to changes in consumer tastes and preferences, competition, regulation, and input costs.  Products and business processes inevitably must change, but this may be a particularly difficult challenge since, often, the current leaders of the business have been the ones who have been instrumental in implementing the current products and business practices. Leadership must establish a culture where everyone is expected to generate ideas, and an incentive system to reward them.

Perhaps a more important challenge is to understand and maintain principles that must not change.  A virtuous business needs to steadfastly maintain their commitment to valuing the individual, integrity in decision making, and doing the right thing—despite possible short-run adverse consequences.  It is the virtuous principles that guide the business, serving as its unchanging foundation as the business adapts to new conditions.  One of the ideal examples of this was Paul, as evidenced by his work and letters in the New Testament.  He adapted to the conditions and people he worked with when establishing Christian communities around the Mediterranean, while always maintaining the principles of Christ’s teaching.

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

                                                                                                   1 Cor. 9:22 New International Version

[i] Botelho, E. L., Rosenkoetter Powell, K., Kincaid, S., &Wang, D. (2017, May-June). What sets successful CEOs apart? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from (para. 23)

[ii] Ibid, para. 22.



  1. Thanks for these important reflections, Dr. Wilkinson. I spent 30+ years as Senior Legal Counsel at a Fortune 100 company, helping groups adapt effectively and yet remain true to the company’s ethical roots. Our hugely (and increasingly) diverse workforce presented many of the same kinds of challenges that confronted Paul in the first century. My experience as a compliance counselor teaches that it’s hugely helpful to encourage open dialogue on the WHY behind tough decisions that have ethical implications. VW’s Dieselgate scandal and Wells Fargo’s marketing scandal – like many others – arose despite the fact that those companies had well-crafted ethics statements and policies. The policies that were plastered on the walls said all the “right” things; but they were regarded simply as a ploy to help top management dodge responsibility and liability.

    To truly shape corporate culture we must engage employees’ hearts. For many (but not all) employees, their key ethical values are rooted in their “religious” identity and convictions. I’ve seen how a purposeful opening of dialogue on religious perspectives of corporate integrity can invigorate an appropriate long-term perspective and positive behaviors by a critical mass of employees. Stifling such dialogue tends to demotivate people of faith, and fuels distrust and cynicism.

    This is hugely important work.

    • Dr. Gary Wilkinson

      Thank you for your comments. It sounds like you have extensive experience dealing with ethics and corporate culture. In the DeVoe School of Business, we have been studying how to build and maintain a culture of ethics through several case studies published in the DeVoe Report. We also have an ongoing effort to incorporate faith based principles in our classes on business decision making.
      I completely agree, this is a very important work


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