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Good Boss Wenceslas? (or just more ‘bah humbug’?)

Posted on: November 26th, 2015 by Staffan Engstrom

If you have the chance to attend a carol service this Christmas, and to sing the carol Good King Wenceslas, then I encourage you to think about the story that it tells. Whilst it is the only Christmas carol that I know that makes absolutely no mention of the nativity, it merits being ‘up there’ because of its inspiring message: that helping the poor and disadvantaged will also help you in turn.

The question is whether this benevolent 10th century king of Bohemia is a good leadership example for modern business? The conventional wisdom is that business leaders need to be ‘hard headed’, avoiding time-and-money-wasting distractions. Of course, it’s this kind of thinking that puts initiatives like Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Community Engagement, Health and Safety, and the Environment, onto the back-burner.

So many bosses get this confused, ending up being caught with ‘acting tough in the interests of the business’ but trying to cover up the corporate self-interest with a veneer of do-gooding run by the marketing department. In truth it’s just more PR which others see through. These businesses and their ‘leaders’ end up looking false, lacking in integrity, and losing trust.

On the other hand, I encourage you to make your leadership style one of ‘hard-headed benevolence’. Let’s keep our integrity, admitting that the core purpose of business is to turn a decent profit, so that we can all make a living, and provide a return to the shareholders who have taken the risk to invest in the business. But at the same time, let’s openly recognise that businesses are owned by, run by, managed by, and serve customers, who are just people – human beings – who are driven and inspired by so much more than just the money.

In order for a business to succeed it needs to be trusted. Trusted so that customers and other partners keep coming back. Trusted so that the best people want to work for them. Trusted so that when there is a business disaster, they have the credibility to overcome. Trusted to take tough decisions, when needed.

That’s how businesses that do the right thing also succeed.