Business: It’s A Matter of Perception

HomeColumnBusiness: It’s A Matter of Perception

I recently attended a small business conference where owners and entrepreneurs from around the country gathered to discuss the most pressing issues affecting businesses today. As you can imagine, the ongoing economic crisis dominated the discussion for most of the three-day event, but in particular, I was intrigued with the group’s overall reaction to the question of how we got into this mess in the first place. Our conversations on the sub-prime mortgage crisis, fraudulent lending practices and billion dollar executive bonuses on Wall Street, to name just a few of the reasons, was leaving a bad taste in our mouths, and I understood why so many people across America have become so cynical of big business, but I also sensed that something else has been developing in our national psyche as a result of the uproar which concerns me. It has to do with ethics in business, or the perceived lack thereof.

We’ve all been bombarded with striking accounts of corporate scandals, cover-ups and horrible injustices carried out by seemingly respectable business and community leaders. The national media attention is thick with details which, as a result, has created a new level of awareness in our society now screaming at the top of its lungs, “We’re not going to take this anymore!” And rightfully so. But as a business owner, I find myself at odds with the way society has come to perceive business itself. I don’t blame anyone for being jaded. There’s certainly enough reason for it. But we seem to have popularized the notion that the problem is with “business” itself, and I have to take exception with that. The problem isn’t business, folks. It’s us.

All too often we hear sweeping generalizations that typecast these white-collar offenders as “typical businessmen” or we think that the only qualification needed to fill a sales position is the ability to lie. It’s no wonder we’re so cynical when we see honest, hard-working people make it to the top. They must be doing something unethical, right? Wrong. Or at least I’d like to think so.

Business is nothing more and nothing less than a projection of ourselves. A powerful expression of who we are as human beings, it reflects the desire and motivations of those that give it life. Without the human component business can do nothing. So when the question of ethics in business comes up, we need only to look at ourselves.

Many consider business as simply a way to get ahead, and they’re missing the boat. There’s no question that we all deserve to profit from our work, but no matter how you slice it, a business must create value if it is to generate profit. Why? Because business is all about connecting and creating value. The better you connect with your team, the better your team will perform. The better you connect with your customers, the more of them you’ll have. That’s good business. That’s the bottom line.

In his book, Working Your Way Into Heaven, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski wrote, “All human activity reflects in itself the dual character of man’s personality. This activity is directed to his own ends and, at the same time, it goes beyond those aims by going out to his neighbor. Thus our work acquires not merely a personal but a social character as well.” Bravo. And herein lies the secret to ultimate success in business. Every job carries with it the opportunity to serve others and there can be no greater calling in life. Focusing on the customers we serve elevates business to an expression of our desire to create value. It’s what breeds true innovation and catapults ultimately successful people and organizations to the top. No need to cheat or steal. There’re plenty of ways to reach our goals if we would only help others reach theirs.

So there you have it. Whether there’s a problem with business ethics or ethics in business, it all comes down to you and me. The next time you’re tempted to think that the only way to make it to the top is at the expense of others, think again. Your success is in direct proportion with your ability to create value. The more value you create, the more successful you’ll be. And you won’t have to sacrifice ethics in the process. In the words of Sir John Marks Templeton, “Those who do good do well – in any economy.”

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