Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, was ahead of his time with his 1971 children's book The Lorax. He foreshadowed the importance of the relationship between ethical business leaders and global issues.
Every decision we make impacts someone or something else. In The Lorax, cutting down the Truffula trees resulted in a band of homeless "Bar-Ba-Loots." In business, putting profits ahead of people doesn't leave room for a company to flourish from its roots.
One example of this is Patagonia. A compassion-based company that emerged from a love for the outdoors, Patagonia is rooted in strong leadership values, but with Rose Marcario at the helm as CEO, Patagonia sprouted in all the right directions.
Marcario once told a reporter that "this idea that business can only serve one interest--the shareholder interest--is so wrong-headed. It's outdated." She went on to say, "We're not going to have a world to live in if we continue to think that way." She's right. Being forced to go against our morals in order to serve investor interests isn't just outdated, it's damaging.
Understanding Corporate Moral Injury
Moral injury is the act of being forced into doing something that conflicts with strongly held ethical beliefs, resulting in a loss of sense of self. It's the one thing that often breaks veterans of war but is largely unavoidable on the battlefield.
So why, then, is leadership language built around terms like "battle" and "power" and phrases like "rally the troops"? Why are employees often treated unkindly and pushed past personal ethics?
We forget that there are human elements factoring into a return on investment, and in this sense we are (indeed) "crazy with greed."
But it's not entirely our fault. We don't have a Lorax to remind us that every decision we make has a direct consequence. What we do have is the power to use business influence for the greater good, and to build companies that are lead through compassion.
These concepts aren't just built on philosophy either. We can take steps right now to draw upon compassion in the workplace through recognizing that our team members share commonalities. We can take a moment to think about the following truths:
We are all someone (mother, sister, daughter, etc.)
Everyone wants to be happy
All team members want to feel appreciated and heard
Nobody wants to feel cornered, useless, or threatened
These are all things that we share. Stopping and thinking about how we're all connected (even on the most basic level) can help spread compassion. It's also important to invest in leadership training to improve soft skills. Future leaders must put humans first.
Creating a Culture of Compassion
It's true that "business is business and business must grow," but not in the way that most people might think. The widely (and falsely) held assumption is that feelings have no space in the workplace, that profits cannot grow amid a culture of compassion.
The raw facts show us, without a doubt, that mindful and compassionate cultures are more productive cultures. When people feel a sense of purpose, they will work hard to achieve a goal that they are proud of.
Companies like Zappos (CEO Tony Hsieh is widely known for leading his team with the goal of compassion or "connectedness") that are steeped in compassionate leadership and work towards making employees happy and build profits in the meantime.
Both goals can coexist, it doesn't have to be one or the other.
Leading With Compassion
Business can also support loftier goals of leadership change. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner is an ideal example of leadership that changed due to scrutiny under a compassionate microscope. In a recent interview, Weiner pointed out that his intensity and curiosity were often gauged by employees as being hostile or confrontational. Through employee feedback, Weiner adjusted his leadership style to reframe his intensity so that it is culturally beneficial.
Businesses can grow ("biggering, biggering, biggering!") both in terms of revenue and culture, resulting in more profits and a happier workplace. This much has been proven to be true. The trick is fostering growth from within leadership.
It's not too late for corporate culture to begin cultivating healthier environments. We can start by hiring leaders who have vital skills like creativity, problem-solving, intellectual humility, and the simple human trait of compassion.
We can also take a good look at our current leadership and ask whether or not they are open to learning how to foster an environment of change. It's not too late for change to happen. It's not too late for us to care "an awful lot."