How does one judge a CEO? On the one hand, amoral leadership can lead one to excessively take advantage of the system. Immorality in pursuit of profit leads to News Corp behavior. We want CEOs to have a good moral compass. But what happens when that compass comes with “faith” that conflicts with ours?
In the aftermath of the Chik-Fil-A kerfuffle, David W. Miller at HBR Blog Review asks what happens when a CEO’s “North Star” conflicts with ours.
Most CEOs I know, the great ones at least, all say that a leader needs to have a North Star; some fixed point of reference to stay ethically grounded, personally and professionally. For many, this North Star is their faith. For Timberland, it was the founder’s Orthodox Judaism. For Whole Foods, it is the CEO’s Buddhism. For Chick-fil-A, it is the founder’s Christian faith. For others, it may not be religion but a quiet source of decency and depth acquired from parents and others in their life.
Managers and employees face the same dilemmas as CEOs. If your faith teaches you values that other laugh at or disregard (e.g. Sabbath rest), what do you do? What if your faith says that following the spirit of the law is as important as the letter, and your company doesn’t? What if your faith says that work should bring you meaning and purpose, and not just a paycheck? What if your faith says you can’t touch certain food items, or you must wear certain clothes, or pray at certain times, and others disrespect you as a result? Or if your faith teaches you to treat women, minorities, gay people, and the disabled at work with the same rights, respect, and compensation as everyone else, but your company or country culture does not, what do you do?
In these days of seemingly unending corporate misbehaviors, the importance of business leaders being anchored with a strong moral compass seems more important than ever. They need help creating ethical corporate cultures and places to work where employees can find meaning and purpose, and be treated with dignity and respect. But what does this mean in practice? What are the possibilities and pitfalls of integrating faith and work?