Of the two essential attributes, courage and humility, that form the seed of positive change toward the Purposeful Enterprise, courage is by far the better known and more celebrated. In our post-modern and still highly individualistic age, courage is certainly the more “attractive” of the two. Like brand, that outward manifestation of a company’s character and identity, courage is more often ascribed than claimed.
Courage does not demand heroics or stirring speeches or violent oppressors (à la William Wallace and other rebellious Scots my heritage may claim). Instead, it is a virtue that insists upon self-awareness, social intelligence, confidence and service to others. Courage is the quality of doing what’s right despite the personal cost, which is a product of conviction.
It takes courage to tell the analysts of the capital markets that forward financial guidance and quarterly earnings calls are an unwarranted distraction. It takes courage to tell your boss that further cost rationalization will harm the customer, even though her bonus may well be contingent on the task. It takes courage to declare a purpose knowing full well that a critical mass of employees will hold you to account if you don’t live up to it. It takes courage to challenge a remarkably skilled employee who is a corrosive influence on other employees and the culture, even though he appears wildly successful on many fronts. It takes courage to set aside a larger portion of a shrinking family budget to buy more sustainably-grown food. It takes courage to put in place legislation that will curb further environmental degradation while incurring the wrath of powerful voices and deep-pocketed lobbies.
Yet, if such actions show courage to the observer, for the one acting courageously, they often seem inevitable, for they are descendants of conviction that the prospect of difficulty or opposition simply cannot sway. As one of my colleagues has so eloquently described, “Chris, there is no going back for me. I have been changed. I can only go forward with this conviction.”
I have often felt, as a management consultant, that the greatest asset I could possibly bring to facilitate change in a client organization was not mine at all, but rather the gut instincts and convictions of my client. I have always believed that my job is not to bring some management technique or fad method, but instead to help my client better understand themselves and their position, to embolden them, and to foster their courage.
Today, we have the kind of businesses that we as consumers and employees have chosen. While none of us will single-handedly counteract some of capitalism’s corrosive power, we can choose not to buy the things that can only be created by exploitation. We can choose not to work for an employer who systematically avoids serving a real social need. We can choose not to implement a myopic strategy or policy. We can choose not to cynically pitch an idea that may well be bought but will cause harm elsewhere.
We all have such choices, including preserving artificial wealth instead of pursuing a much greater prize, allowing rationalization to trump positive impact, or leaving things worse off than we found them.
The Purposeful Enterprise—a business that puts profit in service to purpose—will come about because a critical mass of both customers and employees summon the courage to change the business for the better.
The core, this most fascinating and inspiring half of the aniseed at the heart of real organizational change, is not a clever method or tactic or program. Rather, it is a few courageous people who are so deeply convicted of a compelling and noble idea that they simply disregard the consequences.
It has always been so, and it always will be so… if we have enough courage to do our part.