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Catholic CEO

How Church teachings can help us build better organizations





Mission of a business (#5)

5. We wish to speak specifically to Christian business leaders, who have at the heart of their work the deep sense of God’s calling to be collaborators in creation. Such leaders play an important role in advancing and bringing to life ethical social principles, drawing on the Catholic social tradition where appropriate, in their day-to-day routines. We also wish to speak to all business leaders of good will who have an influence on the behaviors, values, and attitudes of the people comprising their enterprises. From CEOs to heads of teams to those with informal influence, business leaders of all kinds play a critical role in shaping economic life and creating the conditions for all people to develop integrally through business institutions. Such institutions are broad and diverse, including cooperatives, multinational corporations, small entrepreneurial start-ups, employee-owned businesses, family businesses, social businesses, partnerships, sole- proprietorships, joint ventures with government, for-profit/ non-profit collaborations. Some of these businesses are publicly traded stock companies, while most are privately held. Some have revenues larger than many countries, but most are small. Some are owned by thousands of investors, others are owned by a single person or family. Some are legally defined as for-profit entities, others, in new legal constructs, are termed “social businesses” with a special status. Business is a diverse institution and Pope Benedict XVI has indeed welcomed a mixing of institutional forms.

Commentary: We business leaders are addressed here in terms that are not familiar: “collaborators in creation,” “leaders…who create the conditions for all people to develop integrally.”  Those twin goals, collaborating with God in furthering his creation; and creating an environment where employees can develop integrally, are more important than maximizing a financial return.  That will come too, if we do these other jobs right, but our focus should be on partnering with God in using our businesses to further develop creation.  Do we talk to our executive teams about how to implement these missions?

For instance, we should occasionally address this question with our executive team: “How does our product or service improve society (or the common good)?”  Get the answers up on the white board.  Then write up a one pager and distribute it to everyone.  It may seem trivial, but there is nothing trivial in God’s kingdom. 

And a second question: “Concretely, how are we helping our employees (and other stakeholders) ‘develop integrally?’”  How are we helping them increase their human dignity?  Are we treating them as persons, or as entries in a financial spreadsheet?  What could we do to help them improve as persons?

Potential of a Business to do Harm (#4)

4. All of these potential benefits encourage the Church to take a lively interest in business. Where businesses succeed, people’s lives can be significantly improved; but where they fail, great harm can result. A market economy must be based on the pursuit of the common good in freedom, but freedom without truth leads to disorder, injustice and social fragmentation. Without guiding principles and virtuous leadership, businesses can be places in which expediency overcomes justice, power corrupts wisdom, technical instruments are detached from human dignity, and self-interest marginalises the common good. 

Commentary: The "Pursuit of the Common Good" is the self-examination we must apply in our businesses, and this a duty of the CEO.  He or she needs to provide "virtuous leadership" to guide the business towards this goal.  Alex Havard says this type of leadership is based on six virtues: humility, magnanimity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.  To the extent these virtues can be learned by others in the organization, not only will they find it easier to pursue the common good, they will themselves develop into "virtuous leaders" who can influence others.

Business helps employees develop virtues (#3)

3. When managed well, businesses actively enhance the dignity of employees and the development of virtues, such as solidarity, practical wisdom, justice, discipline, and many others. While the family is the first school of society, businesses, like many other social institutions, continue to educate people in virtue, especially those young men and women who are emerging from their families and their educational institutions and seeking their own places in society. Those who come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and who are threatened with social isolation may also find their places within companies. Furthermore, businesses promote healthy interdependence among the peoples of different nations by promoting interaction between them in a way that is mutually beneficial. They may, thus, become vehicles of cultural engagement and promoters of peace and prosperity.

COMMENTARY:  The goal of all Catholic social doctrine is the enhancement of the dignity of the human person.  The highest form of dignity is sainthood.  And the Church defines a saint as one who has lived all the virtues heroically.  So if we as business leaders have a plan to help our employees grow in virtue (we have chronicled over 130 of them), then we are responding to our vocation in the best way possible.  Virtues are developed through practice, not through studying, so we have to have a pro-active plan to help employees practice the virtues most important to our companies.  How can we help employees in HR practice the virtue of diligence?  How would it be practiced in Finance?  At our Executive Staff meetings? 

See my other website: www.CoreValuesGroup.com

Business is a material and spiritual good (#2)

2. When businesses and markets as a whole are functioning properly, and are regulated in an effective manner by governments, they make an irreplaceable contribution to the material and even the spiritual well-being of humankind. When business activity is carried out justly and effectively, customers receive goods and services at fair prices; employees engage in good work and earn a livelihood for themselves and their families; and investors earn a reasonable return on their investment. Communities see their common resources put to good use and the overall common good is increased.

COMMENTARY:  So often the media wants to make blanket statements like "Pope Francis hates business."  He doesn't.  Here we see that a properly run enterprise can contribute to the "material and even the spiritual well-being of humankind."  We choose the parameters that make our business a social good or a social evil.  It's up to us to take a look at all the operations of our organization, and evaluate them according to the social teachings of the Church.  Doing so will improve our companies, increase financial returns, and enhance the dignity of our employees and other stakeholders.  Shareholders too!

Business is our vocation! (#1, Vocation of the Business Leader)

1. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Lk 12:48). Businesspeople have been given great resources and the Lord asks them to do great things. This is your vocation. In this young century alone, many businesses have already brought forth marvellous innovations which have cured disease, brought people closer together through technology and created prosperity in countless ways. Unfortunately, this century has also brought business scandals and serious economic disturbances, and an erosion of trust in business organisations and in free-market institutions generally. For Christian business leaders, this is a time that calls for the witness of faith, the confidence of hope, and the practice of love.

COMMENTARY:  Business is our vocation!  It is what God has called us to do.  But we have to build our businesses according to the teachings of the Church, just as we have to live other parts of our lives according to those teachings.  I was surprised that the Church had a lot to say about how businesses should function.  The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church summarized 125 years of Catholic social teaching, a portion of which discusses business (primarily Chapter 6).  The Vocation of the Business Leader is another excellent document that summarizes much of that teaching in 87 digestible bullets.  We will explore those 87 points in this blog.