WELCOME to our Bible School Business School (BSBS) series. BSBS takes insights from the Bible and applies them to business, leadership and personal development.
The cause of the financial crises by many of our corporates over the past 12 months, particularly those in the financial sector, was not necessarily incompetence but poor corporate governance. The failed institutions were led by highly-qualified executives, most of whom, ironically, belonged to professional bodies that pride themselves in promoting and upholding high standards of ethical business practice. To survive in the present and harsh banking environment, highly-qualified directors seem to have deliberately seared their consciences, setting aside ethical standards. Does the threat to a business’s survival in extraordinary economic times justify casting aside personal integrity?
This article mines lessons from the Biblical-historical record on the role of personal integrity in shaping outstanding executive talent.
Two of the world’s erstwhile glorious empires, Egypt and Babylon, whose cultural legacies are integrated into our contemporary world, are tutorials in the role of personal ethics in business. From amidst the daily grind of political administration in the two ancient empires, two characters stood out, Joseph and Daniel. These two personae both started out as slaves, Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon, and rose to the centre pinnacles of power in their respective empires. This they did, not through political hugger-mugger, but through a rare amalgam of competence and personal integrity. Nevertheless, in this instalment we shall only consider the ethical exploits of Daniel, together with his three friends Shadrech, Meshach and Abednego. Three tutorials stand out.
Three business ethics laws
To lay the ground for understanding the three laws of ethics, namely the law of ethical intelligence, the law of ethical minorities and the law of ethical legacy, we shall explore these through the eyes of the historical locus Daniel developed and matured in.
In the year 605 BC, the Babylonian empire rose to prominence. The Bible records how Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, after vanquishing the kingdom of Judah, forcibly carried away into captivity members of its defeated royal house. That group of captives included Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, better known by their Babylonian names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. The Babylonians were master human capital developers. As part of their human capital strategy, they sought to develop their human capital base through selecting the best brains from among their captives. It was a very rigorous selection programme. Those who went through this sieve were taken through an intensive three-year tertiary education programme.
Of this human capital strategy the book of Daniel 1:3-4 records: “Then the king instructed Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs, to bring some of the children of Israel and some of the king’s descendants and some of the nobles, young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans,’ (NKJV).
Herein lies the shortcomings of talent-acquisition processes that have persisted to our modern day. A careful analysis of the profile of candidates earmarked for Babylon’s top jobs shows a bias towards expertise and intelligence. Babylon’s recruitment criteria for top jobs differed markedly from the executive talent development practices of the Hebrew. The executive talent development strategy of the Hebrews placed a greater premium on ethics. For instance, Hebrew education taught how accepting bribes compromised intellectual freedom. Exodus 23:8 records: “And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.’’ (NKJV) This could explain why a significant number of seemingly intelligent people in our country do things that defy logic.
It is the ethics premium in Hebrew education that regularly brought Daniel and his friends on a collision course with their colleagues in the corridors of power.
An ethical challenge surfaced during training. The training regime included a dietary routine specially-appointed by the king. Daniel 1:5 records: “And the king appointed for them a daily provision of the king’s delicacies and of the wine which he drank, and three years of training for them, so that at the end of that time they might serve before the king,’’ (NKJV). The Hebrew quartet had had deep grounding in Hebrew ethics, including shunning harmful dietary habits. A deep grounding in ethics compelled the Hebrew boys to politely ask for an alternative diet. Daniel 1:8 reads: “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself,’’ (NKJV). Daniel was a straight A student, who later became the emperor’s top aide and chief diplomat. From the get-go Daniel set clear ethical demarcations. The phrase “purposed in his heart” means he rehearsed in his mind, meaning he would envision future ethical challenges and he would then premeditate his responses. That’s one facet of ethical intelligence.
The dividends of a risky ethical choice were astounding.
Daniel 1:18-19 records how the Hebrew quartet outperformed the other trainees: “Now at the end of the days, when the king had said that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them 10 times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm,’’ (NKJV).
What is clear from this narrative is that ethics combined with intelligence result in exceptional talent. Those who are scientifically-minded would have realised that there appears to be an association between ethics and quality of talent. Simply put, among the crème la de crème, ethics give an unassailable margin of performance.
Ethical intelligence is what Zimbabwe’s corporate world needs to turn around the fortunes of industry and our national economy. A top chief executive with a leading Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed entity shared with me how ethical intelligence turned around the fortunes of a top Zimbabwean company. The company needed to fill the position of finance director to arrest a deteriorating financial position. Among those interviewed for the position was a candidate who spelt out clearly their ethical values which they were not willing to compromise.
The candidate literally told the high-powered interviewing panel not to bother offering him the job if there was a possibility that his stated ethical non-negotiables would be violated. The interviewing panel, impressed by such a rare ethical stand, settled for this candidate, though in terms of experience, he was no match for the rest of the candidates. It took less than three months for the new finance director to uncover the sources of financial leakages in the company. Within a space of six months, the financial position of the company had dramatically improved. That’s what the law of ethical intelligence entails.
The law of ethical minorities states that only a few ethically intelligent individuals strategically placed in the top-echelons of an organisation are needed to positively impact on the performance of an organisation. This is a simple law that we can plug into to turn around Zimbabwe’s corporate and national fortunes.
The law of ethical legacy states that the impact of ethically intelligent talent reaches into future generations. Daniel 2:21 states: “Thus Daniel continued until the first year of King Cyrus,” (NKJV).
Ethical intelligence can do more to safeguard our banks than strong capitalisation.
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