Business leadership lessons from biblical Job

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

The Human Capital 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.

In this month’s instalment, the spotlight trains the business leadership competencies of a well-known Old Testament biblical character called Job.

Particularly, Job’s business leadership brand blows up the widely-accepted stereotype of the business leader as a cold-hearted pursuer of profit. Job was the very epitome of business success, yet very atypical of the calloused nature of today’s iconic and, at times, venerated business leader.

Job’s hierarchy of priorities stated so eloquently in Job 31: 24,25 and 28 (NKJV) would be considered strange in today’s business world: “If I have made gold my hope, or said to fine gold, ‘You are my confidence’; If I have rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because my hand gained much…This also would be iniquity deserving of judgement…” For Job, gold and silver were not the be-all-and-end of life—they were a means to lessening the burdens and ills of society.

Decisive but soft-skilled
Job 29:11-17 (NKJV) sum up Job’s extraordinary levels of emotional and social intelligence: “When the ear heard, then it blessed me, and when the eye saw, it approved me; because I delivered the poor who cried out, the fatherless and the one who had no helper. The blessing of a perishing man came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; My justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind, and I was feet to the lame. I was a father to the poor, and I searched out the case that I did not know. I broke the fangs of the wicked, and plucked the victim from his teeth.”

Two nuggets are worth isolating and musing over.
First, Job had a heightened sense of social responsibility. He was pro-active in addressing the social challenges prevalent in his community. According to Job 1:5 (last part, NKJV), Job was the wealthiest in the ancient near East: “…so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East.”

For all his wealth and business success, Job used his economic advantages for the benefit of the less fortunate– widows, the fatherless and the physically challenged topping the list. This was not choreographed philanthropy.

It was a lifestyle, Job’s second nature, if you like. It wasn’t a public relations stunt. It wasn’t an act of sanitising the excesses of capitalism.

Second, Job was a man of principle who believed that justice should run its full course. By using the expression “My justice was like a robe and a turban”, Job was underlining the fact that this was a deeply ingrained value.

You would expect Job to act justly with his employees, suppliers and business partners alike. Where there was injustice Job would use his influence and power to bring equity.

If you were a manager under Job’s overseeing, you wouldn’t expect to get away with ill-treating subordinates. In his own words, Job registers his utter disdain of employee ill-treatment: “If I have despised the cause of my male or female servant when they complained against me…Did not He who made me in the womb make them?…” (Job 31:13 15; NKJV). Hear, hear.

Leadership at home test
Consistently, ancient Hebrew custom required people nominated to corporate leadership positions to first demonstrate that they led their families well.

The reasoning was simple; if one couldn’t lead a small group like a family, asking one to lead a larger body corporate would be a big, big ask. Job passed the first-lead-your-family-well test with flying colours.

Job 1:5 (NKJV) gives us a glimpse into Job’s family-level leadership qualities: “So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did regularly.”

This is what we learn from Job’s family affairs. He invested quality time with his family. Sad stories abound of business leaders who are so busy that they have little time with their families. When life’s sunset approaches many business leaders discover they have gained fame and lost on things of lasting value that money cannot buy.

Life, in the end, is not measured by how you beat analysts’ forecasts and drove your company’s share price through the roof, let alone how many top-of-the-range vehicles you drove in your lifetime. It is measured by how you made a difference in other people’s lives.

Job inculcated in his children the values of integrity. The key here is that he did it regularly. That bespeaks entrenchment of culture. Job created a family brand. What Job was to the outside world was what he was inside the walls of his home. There were no two Jobs.
Leadership is leadership. Whether it is business or family, the fundamentals of leadership are similar; the difference is just a matter of scale.

Integrity at all costs
The opening verse to the Book of Job flags out brand Job: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job: and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1, NKJV). A character trait attributable to Job deserving unpacking is that of shunning evil.

The King James Version (KJV) uses the word eschewed in place of shunned. The term eschew and its past tense equivalent is used only four times in the whole of the King James Version bible, once in the New Testament and three times in the Old Testament, all the Book of Job. In the original biblical language, eschewed is rendered soor, whose primary meaning is to turn off. As a Hebrew idiom, soor means to rebel against evil.

At a deeper level, Job recoiled from evil. If we had business leaders of Job’s ilk, poor corporate governance would not be getting such prodigious amount of airtime. Individual governance is the precursor to good corporate governance.

Anything less is mere talkshow. It’s not easy to maintain integrity in today’s business world that is oiled by dissembling, dog-eat-dog and the me-before-anyone (MBA) attitudes. It takes highly principled business people to walk away from lucrative deals if the cost is loss of integrity. The example of Job shows that it is possible to be a highly successful business person who is socially, emotionally and spiritually intelligent (principled).

Reflect on it
A leader can still be shrewd and still maintain a human face. A leadership brand that is built on integrity and social responsibility does not make one a softie. It has always been the currency of transformational leadership.

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

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