Corporate governance and human ecology
Over the few past decades, ecology has become an inescapable topic of general interest. This is true not only for business people, but also for the general public. Ordinary citizens are increasingly aware of that their responsibility is not limited to the walls of their own home, building or neighborhood. Today’s citizens are protagonists of the global village, and understand that the fruits of their current efforts will be passed on to their descendants.
The environment has been pillaged in numerous ways by human beings, and we are now attempting to repair for these evils through regulations, government agendas, international conferences, scientific research, and public service announcement campaigns, etc. This is a good thing. However, there is an aspect of the environment that remains frankly in a state of decadence, and this is the human environment. The work environment is where most people spend an important part of their lives, but efforts are rarely made to create a in “more livable” or more humane environment in the workplace, though this work allows employees to be enriched by doing their work in a more pleasant context.
It may seem like a truism, but just as whales cannot live in an environment that harms their health, not can human people live in an environment where they are not permitted to develop all of their human capacities. I term “human ecology” this necessity to safeguard the good of the human person. This requires not only the elimination of what is harmful to him, but also building a society that collaborates towards his fulfillment. The corporate sphere where many people share working hours may be one of the first environments to reclaim, and business leaders have a particular role in this task.
The human person of the 21st century is victim to a schizophrenic lifestyle that pushes him to work non-stop Monday to Friday, putting in nearly superhuman efforts in a highly competitive environment. But by contrast, his weekends are reserved for overly comfortable and perhaps cloying activities. Sometimes it would seem that on the weekend, a whole other person emerges, one who knows nothing of sacrifice, hard work and demands, and one that no longer seems to know even how to organize his own nightstand. During the week he lives “rationally” and on the weekend he lives “sentimentally”, without commitments, duties or authorities to answer to.
This fragmented, insane and aimless sort of existence brings us to reflect upon the need to help individuals in the 21st century return to their own being. For this to take place, it would first be necessary to set them on the right track to discovering their own identity, capacities and the wide spectrum of possibilities that their lives encompass. They must also importantly regain a taste for what gives meaning to their life and transcends their exhausting workweek. The people of today need to “rediscover themselves” and to find a unifying element and end goal to their being: their feelings, actions, feelings, desires, tastes, etc. Today more than ever, given the importance that is attributed to processes and the development of automatized tasks, the working world requires ends that are sufficiently strong, radical and inclusive to drive the development of human growth, bringing many of man’s hidden energies into the light of day.
In the corporate world, the “re-humanization” of the workforce could be set as an objective of governance, without neglecting the ethical obligation to earn profits. This consideration is not merely a “luxury” for the company, because executives have an underlying responsibility to seek the development of their employees. Efforts in governance cannot be aimed solely in one direction, but should rather seek the holistic flourishing of everyone in the executive’s sphere of responsibility. Economic development should also lead to integral human development. Additionally, it is good to analyze how the contribution of human virtues facilitates economic progress. Certainly, we need to make the stark realization that concern for putting the human person first is of benefit for the growth of the economy as a whole as well as that of the firm.
In an address given by Pope John Paul II in Santiago de Chile before the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) (April 3 1987), he stated that, “The moral causes of prosperity have been well known throughout the course of history. They lie in a combination of virtues: hard work, competence, orderliness, honesty, initiative, boldness, frugality, saving, willingness to serve, fulfillment of one’s word: in short, prizing a job well done. No social system or structure can solve the problem of poverty as if by magic without practicing these virtues; in the final analysis, both the design and the functioning of institutions are the reflection of these human habits which are acquired essentially in the process of education and go to make up a true culture of work.”
To this end, business leaders need to examine their own vision of the human person to ensure that it corresponds with a humanistic understanding of man, understanding his dignity and acting on the consequences of this vision. It would be nearly impossible to lead others without this understanding, a case of the blind leading the blind. Business leaders need to take the forefront and face difficulties and struggles like others, in order to alert their employees of the obstacles they may face. They should act as beacons that illuminate others through their personal experience, allowing for everyone to grow. Their task is to serve as an exemplary point of reference for their employees, contributing with their words and their life to creating human working conditions so that their employees can be fulfilled and supported in this quest through their daily interactions. Business leaders should know the world around them very well. They should know the civil society that surrounds the firm, in order to lead others down a familiar path, and to make society more humane by helping their employees reach their potential.
The starting point of all human growth is human rationality, which allows us to discover the natural order. Human reason can discern the natural ends of the world and of man, and to realize that only in this climate of respect for the natural order can understand himself instinctively as a person. The human person reaches fulfillment through his intelligence and his freedom, and as such, takes on the objects and instruments of the world as he appropriates them. The human person, in possession of himself, is also in control of his actions and the fruits of his actions. Work is an essential dimension of the dignity and fulfillment of the human person.
Ethics is the path that instructs man on how to use his will in a free and responsible manner. This leads to the fullness of his existential calling. Ethics is not just a set of rigid norms, it is life itself. It is the commitment, which begins in the conviction that the CEO must live in order to be a true factor of development in the firm, and to provide more than wages for their employees. They can also desire to bring happiness to their employees and to their families, because this good is contagious. According to the philosopher Leonardo Polo, the net gains from human time are growth: “From the point of view of man’s temporal nature, ethics is the way to avoid wasting time. Framed in a positive light: it is the way that man gains time. In a more neutral sense: it is the way to compensate for the inevitable passing of time, a way of avoiding deficit: that there be no more time than what can be achieved in time. What is the means of gaining time? For a living thing, it is to grow.”
The foundational task of governance is consolidated mainly in the social and political nature of the person. Man needs to live in a civilized society and the security implies relying on the existence of a final decision that comes from the entrusted with the task of governing, this task contributes to man’s perfection. However, though man is an essential social being, sociability may take many forms and needs to be channeled, strengthened and directed in such a way that it does not restrict freedom, but rather gives it wings. This is why government is not synonymous with limitation. It rather signifies the enhancement of possibilities, abilities and capacities of the people for which the firm is responsible.
Finally, it should be specified that to govern, in the most noble sense, means to renounce honors, free time, rights, etc. when this it is required to guarantee to honor, freedom time and rights of those who depend on the person who governs. Certainly, governance is service, as well as personal enrichment. Through service, the business leader is pushed to give a good example, to practice what they preach, to face difficult situations, to fill experiences of failure with an encouraging spirit and to by humble in the face of success. Most definitely, government viewed in the light of generosity, leads one to live a demanding lifestyle aimed at personal perfection. Governance requires virtues and these depend on the person in this role to truly love their employees, because of their role in the firm, their position and their function in the firm, and, in general, and all that this signifies.
One might think that for a business leader to turn their power into service, a new type of social structure would be necessary to allow them to dedicate time and energy to this new way of facing the task of governance, and that given that current context, this seems quite utopic. However, that is not the case. Historically, change has depended on the leadership of magnanimous individuals motivated by an ideal. They are people who rolled up their sleeves, and through years of work, saw their ideals become incarnate in society. These leaders were in fact visionaries, and knew how to see beyond the reality in front of them. They accepted the mission of a greater quest. While mere structural change, without individual transformation, has rarely made a lasting mark in historical terms. Thus, for example, economic systems will fail to reduce human selfishness, unless an ethical transformation takes place. Though it is no easy feat, the only way to make solid and lasting changes on social structures, the firm being one such structure, is to seek the transformation of individuals. Part of this task implies giving mean to their lives.
Given the circumstances, it is not simple in the least to make a concluding proposal. However, some alternatives can be listed with significant potential to improve the tasks of business leaders.
Firstly, it is necessary to once again emphasize the need for business leaders to have exemplary personal conduct. While all human being are obliged to act ethically, higher levels of education and rank imply even more responsibility. All of the firm’s employees should act ethically but the higher an individual’s rank, the more demands should be placed on them in all sphere, including that of ethics. A higher salary should imply a higher set of ethical demands. In firms, all workers look up to top management, and if ethical behavior does not flow from the top down, it is unlikely to have very much reach. Example influence people, whether in a positive or negative sense, and leaders actions are under the constant scrutiny of the rest of their employees. Thus, any change seeking to make an organization more humane should start from the top.
Another attitude that acts more as a means than an end, but equally necessary when developing entrepreneurship, is serenity. Reality is complex and always will be. The leader’s role is to transform this reality to the best of their abilities. This means accepting the objective reality before them, as difficult and costly as it may be, contributing their impassioned, visionary perspective to work fight for the success of their projects, against all the odds. For this to take place, business leaders in decision-making roles must stick to basics, knowing that solutions come from hard work and effort done consistently and coherently, rather than through extraordinary events.
Thus, in the firm, the trust of leaders in their employees is fundamental. These individuals will no reach the full development of their personality, if they those above them fail to act with the initiative and personal responsibility that stems from this confidence. In an environment built on trust, results will be more than satisfactory because the employees will make full use of their capacities. Trust can come at a high premium for business leaders in relation to some of their employees, but it will always be a price worth paying, and one that will show in the accounts, as well as creating a safe environment. It will also but the good intentions of the rest of the employees to good use, allowing them to use their potential to its fullest, because of working in a relaxed, amiable and agreeable environment, in which workers don’t waste time or energy on problems arising from scheming or suspicion.
Business leaders should have a healthy dose of prudence, which is radically different from a lack of trust. They will put efforts into getting to know their staff personally. Sometimes it is tremendously difficult to build successful relationships with others because of misunderstandings, insecurities and sometime a lack of interest in others. All of these barriers can turn into an obstacle course for business leaders. Kindness and effort are not always sufficient. In fact, coherence and authenticity may be the factors that best facilitate relationship building in difficult circumstances. They allow people to go from frivolous chitchat to a more humane form of working together in which each person values those around them. This is the meaning of human ecology.
The relationship between wealth and virtue is that of a virtuous circle. From the point of view of social ontology and classical anthropology, it could not be any other way. Human virtue facilitates economic organization and development. This is why if economic development does not induce growth in virtue, it is planting the seeds of future obstacles. Conversely, for the firm to grow economically, it must first grow in virtue. Growth in virtue, as all forms of growth is achieved through education, just rules, and above all, the encouraging and affectionate example of those in positions of responsibility.
Dr Alejandra Vanney