Leaders as reputation builders

WELCOME to our special monthly series called Bible School Business School (BSBS).

The Human Telescope with Brett Chulu

BSBS, now in its second year, searches for deep insights from the Bible pertaining to business, strategic human resources (talent, leadership and culture) and personal development.

This month is dedicated to studying the importance ancient Hebrew culture placed on building and preserving personal and institutional reputation. In particular, the role of a leader in building his/her reputation and that of his/her organisation will be explored.

Two springboard passages will act as the pivot for our discussion. Proverbs 22:1 (NKJV) sums up the value ancient Hebrews attributed to reputation: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favour rather than silver and gold.” Ecclesiastes 7:1 (NKJV) adds another dimension: “A good name is better than precious ointment.”

Reputation versus wealth

The foregoing springboard verses underline a key principle that was foundational to personal and organisational success in ancient Hebrew culture; it is the idea that sustainable wealth-creation is predicated on investing in on-going character-building.

It was an established principle that ill-gotten wealth would eventually dissipate. To that effect, Proverbs 13:11 (NKJV) states: “Wealth gained by dishonesty will be diminished, but he who gathers by labour will increase.”

As a result, ancient Hebrews did not tolerate the idea that the ‘end justifies the means. For them, the means justified the end. It is within this principle that Proverbs 16:8 (NKJV) strongly underscores the importance of the method used to create wealth when it states: “Better is little with righteousness, than vast revenues without justice.”

Ancient Hebrew wealth-creators looked beyond their generational needs. Long-term wealth preservation through principled business methods was done to build wealth for posterity. With that in mind, the wealth-creator wanted to avoid the end predicted in Proverbs 20:21 (NKJV) that, “An inheritance gained hastily at the beginning will not be blessed at the end.” In ancient Hebrew culture the measure of true wealth was measured in, among other standards, the material success of at least two generations to follow. Proverbs 13:22 (NKJV) captures this standard: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.” It is this long-term thinking that influenced ancient Hebrew wealth-creators to adopt honest business methods.

Character and mission
In ancient Hebrew culture, a name was more than an identifier. It carried a deeper import — it underlined the character and mission of the name-holder. This idea runs throughout the entire Bible. We shall consider a few examples.

At the inception of the Hebrew nation, a patriarch who hailed from the Ur region of the Chaldeans’ land called Abram was called out to sojourn westwards towards what is present day Palestine. Abram means ‘upright father’.

Upon being chosen as the progenitor of what would eventually become the Hebrew nation, his name was changed to Abraham, which means “father of nations.” His new name encapsulated a seemingly unrealistic vision in that his wife was barren. Thus Abraham’s new name served as a daily reminder that out of him a great nation would be raised.

Perhaps a more interesting example is that of Jesus Christ. His very name was a one-word summary of his vision and mission! Nearer to the time of His birth, Jesus’s vision and mission were heralded by an angel who proclaimed in Matthew 1 vs 21: “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus literally means “saviour”.

A careful study of the life and acts of Jesus, as captured in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) clearly illustrate that Jesus’s ministry was ordered according to the meaning of His name. His compassion for the weak, the sick and heartbroken was no happenstance—it was calculated execution of His mission as epitomised by His very name.

Here are a few key points to consider with regards to the importance of a name.

First, a good name acts as a brand. In the case of Jesus, for those with seemingly hopeless conditions and ailments, hope was rekindled at the mention of Jesus’s name. Jesus had, in a short time, built a solid reputation for saving people from the worst and most hopeless of physical conditions and ailments.

Leprosy, considered a terminal condition, was treated by Jesus. The eyes of the blind were opened. Indeed, Jesus’s name, which literally means saviour, was His brand. It defined what Jesus was excellent at and well-known for.

Second, a good name (brand) underwrites the quality of service to be expected. It is a hallmark of consistency. From a business standpoint, this is a source of customer loyalty.

When investors come to expect what to get from a company, their confidence in the company’s capabilities increases and that should be reflected in higher share prices and valuations than those companies that are weaker brands.

Third, a good name (brand) defines what is strategic and what is not. Many leaders and managers struggle with time management. If, as a leader, you become fully aware of what your organisation is well-known for by customers, shareholders and other stakeholders, it should become clearer how you should invest time.

Fourth, a good name (brand) helps define priorities. A leader should invest more attention in those things that matter most to customers, shareholders and other key external interest groups. Can a leader invest time and effort otherwise?

Examples in Zimbabwe
In the past year we witnessed Zimbabwean organisations changing names in what is popularly known as rebranding. Renaissance Merchant Bank (RMB), apparently as a way of shaking off the negative perceptions emanating from past shenanigans, rebranded to Capital Bank. Metropolitan Bank rechristened itself MetBank.

Kingdom Bank rebranded to AfrAsia Kingdom. Careful not to drop the term Kingdom in the new banking entity, it would appear the leaders of the bank estimated that Kingdom was still a good name that consumers valued.

Changing a name without changing the substance of what that name offers in terms of value is an exercise in hoodwinking consumers and a form of self-deception.

Reflect on it
A soiled name (reputation) is a destroyer of the confidence of external customers and stakeholders in an organisation. Wise boards compensate for reputational risk.

Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who is pioneering innovative strategic HR practices in both listed and unlisted companies. — brettchulu@consultant.com.