A few years ago, I was supporting the growth of a consumer goods company that was primed for exponential growth. After having attracted a substantial 7-figure investment and set up a team that was ready to execute, it was discovered that the founder wrongfully spent the entire investment, leaving the company to flounder and wither away.
Lies, accusations, deflections, blame and excuses ensued.
Throughout it all, I heard the constant refrain of “it’s just business”.
When did it become okay to justify destructive behaviour by saying “it’s just business”? When did it become justifiable for people to shirk responsibility and exploit others?
Most importantly, in business, when did we lose touch with our humanity?
There is no business without people. People create the innovative products and services. They buy and sell. They count and account. And yet, all too often, we as entrepreneurs and employees choose to behave inconsistently at work than we do at play. At work, we play politics, hoard information, gossip, complain, and overtly or inadvertently undermine. Yet at home, we find ourselves leading with generosity, charity and care.
Effective companies leverage their people in powerful ways. The foundation of audacious business is the relationships between the human beings involved in that business. It’s about relationships. Consider the most fulfilling relationships in your life. They are undoubtedly founded in authenticity, in which you acted consistently with your core values and could be your beautiful, imperfect self. These were natural expressions of who you really are. Not bullshit mock selves you invent to fit in with the “it’s just business crowd”.
Effective business and relationships happen when we are our authentic selves. Imperfect, natural, and true to our values. This begs the question: who are you being at work? What are you tolerating as a leader?
It’s time that we remember what it means to be human in business. A time to exist as an expression of our true selves.
At institute B, we practice corporate ontology. The word Ontology derives from two Greek words. The first is Onto, meaning a being, that which is. The second is Logia, or science, theory and study. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being. Corporate ontology is the evolution of organizational culture. It is simply defined as the way of being in business.
The new way of being in business is founded in generosity. Generosity is a basic human currency and can be expressed in many ways during the everyday course of business. One way is through empathetic listening, or seeking to understand. Another form of generosity is the practice of honest and immediate feedback. One other way is by practicing forgiveness. Another example is also by seeking abundance for our suppliers as we would ourselves. Generosity requires courage and is a sign of respect. At a basic level, leading with generosity allows for stronger relationships.
Even for the most right wing capitalists, this ideology makes sense. The corporations with the greatest returns and longevity have impactful corporate cultures. They are the ones where employee engagement matches audacious financial results. These cultures are founded upon these fundamental ways of being. Leading with generosity is the new driver of business.
When we live in a world of blind justification called “it’s just business”, we lose a part of ourselves. We lose part of our basic human spirit.
Maybe it’s time to be human again.
Darrell Kopke is the Founder and Skool Principal of institute B, a Vancouver-based business advisory and accelerator firm focusing on for-profit social impact benefit corporations. He also holds ownership positions in several growth companies and a Board position in a Vancouver-based charity established to end homelessness.
Darrell is considered a member of the group of founders of Lululemon Athletica, a Vancouver, Canada-based yoga-inspired athletic apparel retailer. In 2006 Darrell was announced as a member of the Business in Vancouver magazine’s ‘Top 40 Under 40’ business people. He is most proud of his wife Maria and two children Kai and Kennedy.
PHOTO CREDIT: FLICK CREATIVE COMMONS | IYONORA