At the eighth annual International Conference on Catholic Social Thought at the University of Dayton in June, Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, called on Catholic business schools to help students develop a moral compass.
He also pointed leaders to a new booklet his pontifical council has published, available free on the internet, that should be of interest to people working in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.
His point about the need for future leaders to develop moral compasses wasn’t to condemn people engaged in business enterprises. "Let me insist, business is a noble pursuit," he said.
But business leadership is about more than just maximizing profits.
"At its best, and most true to its nature, business serves the common good. Business and entrepreneurship is a calling from God to be a co-creator in a responsible way," the Ghanaian cardinal was quoted as saying in a Catholic News Service story.
Turning to the issue of profits, Cardinal Turkson said making a profit is essential for companies to be sustainable, but it should not be their sole purpose. Invoking an interesting metaphor, he explained: "Profit is a bit like oxygen for a person -- it is not the purpose of your life, but you would quickly die without it. Yet life is more than oxygen and business is more than profit."
Regarding leadership, he said business organizations require mature leaders who steer their enterprises to benefit human life. He cautioned that "such leaders must not focus on any single dimension of business to the exclusion of others. Such has been the failure with the unilateral, indeed myopic, embrace of the profit motive. The need for rebalancing in the economy, between profit on one hand and social and environmental concern on the other, is of paramount importance."
Speaking to an audience of about 160 from 22 countries, most of them from business schools, the cardinal also noted that his pontifical council has published a new booklet, Vocation of the Business Leader, which he said is grounded both in Catholic social doctrine and Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI's 2009 encyclical on economic and social issues.
The new booklet, Cardinal Turkson said, “provides business leaders with principles and tools for discovering their vocation and deliberately pursuing it, so as to live a well-balanced life of enterprising service.”
In the booklet’s appendix, you’ll find a “Discernment Checklist for the Business Leader.” The 30 questions amount to an examination of conscience informed by Catholic social teaching. Many are relevant to leaders in both the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors and they include:
- “Have I been living a divided life, separating Gospel principles from my work?”
- “Am I receiving the sacraments regularly and with attention to how they support and inform my business practices?”
- Is my company making every reasonable effort to take responsibility for unintended consequences [such as] environmental damage or other negative effects on suppliers, local communities and even competitors?
- Do I provide working conditions which allow my employees appropriate autonomy at each level?
- Am I making sure that the company provides safe working conditions, living wages, training, and the opportunity for employees to organize themselves?
- Am I seeking ways to deliver fair returns to providers of capital, fair wages to employees, fair prices to customers and suppliers, and fair taxes to local communities?
- When economic conditions demand layoffs, is my company giving adequate notifications, employee transition assistance, and severance pay?
The booklet, which can be downloaded free in a 32-page format, might make very good end-of-summer reading for everyone who wishes to be a Catholic leader in the world today.
Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute