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A vocation to business

Alicia Ambrosio

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cardinal Peter Turkson is the head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Earlier this week he gave a keynote address at a conference on Catholic business education held at the University of Dayton.
Below is an excerpt from his speech:
I. What Catholic Business Education Should Comprise
There is a sentence in Caritas in veritate that is practically custom-made to introduce my reflections: “Integral human development is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone.” Let me rephrase this in the terms of our topic:
Engagement in business, or entrepreneurship, is primarily a vocation, and therefore it involves a free assumption of responsibility in solidarity on the part of everyone involved.
If business is to do good, then it is because everyone involved strives to do good, especially the leaders. Who will prepare them to exercise responsible freedom in their vocation? It is you, the leaders and workers in the vineyard of Catholic business education.
Our “market research” was conclusive: Catholic business education must strive for excellence in all of the standard business-school topics and, with just as much effort, include features that give it its special Catholic character. It is this character, this Catholic identity and mission, that is the focus of my address today. What I wish to share with you are my expectations for those special, characteristic features in what an excellent, distinctively Catholic business education would teach. These features fall under five headings:
1. Foundations,
2. The Purpose of Business,
3. The Vocation of the Business Leader,
4. Proper Conduct in Business, and
5. The Balanced Life.
A Catholic business school would be fulfilling its proper mission, which includes acting and teaching in a way that is recognizable as Catholic, if these five pillars sustain and orient its entire program of studies.
1. Foundations
The Vocation book explores Christian anthropology and Catholic social teaching. Some readers will have just heard of them; for others, the very existence of such a teaching will come as a surprise. For me, they are the core, the foundations or essentials that will help business leaders to navigate on their mission.
Your conference, like the book, explores the foundations thoroughly. Let me add a perspective that may be worth reflecting on throughout.
It comes from the Bible. For, besides being until recently the pastor of an archdiocese, I am also a student of Sacred Scripture. So, the first chapter of Genesis contains two phrases which are decisive for the foundations: “God created man in his own image” and then He charged Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” nature (Gn 1: 28, 26). These are the two basic or foundational themes, on the nature of the human person and on the reality of work.
First, God endowed his human creatures with freedom and intelligence. Blessed Pope John XXIII spells out the meaning in Pacem in terris: “Each individual man is truly a person. His is a nature endowed with intelligence and free will. As such he has rights and duties, which together flow as a direct consequence from his nature.”[1]
Secondly, God gave Adam and Eve the vocation to work, and invited them, not only to imitate the work He had been doing during the six days, but actually to carry on, in time and on earth, the divine creativity, to share profoundly in the very work of Creation.
Thus, we can trace our human dignity, our stewardship and our responsibility for the common good back to Creation, the originating mission event of humankind.
Rather than speak further about foundations, let me imagine three final exam questions – a student who can answer them adequately has learned those principles of Catholic Social Teaching that should underpin and guide business.
Q1: In what ways can a business leader or manager call for work from a colleague or employee without objectifying that person (i.e., without offending or violating the image and likeness of God)?[2]
Q2: What sorts of industries or business pursuits should a Catholic not engage in, and why not? Why would participation in such a business be a direct participation in evil or an exploitation or violation of the human person?
Q3: How should a Catholic CEO calibrate legitimate returns for investors and senior staff (including compensation for him- or herself) in relation to other considerations?
2. The Purpose of Business
Having mentioned the anthropological foundations of business, I turn to its purpose.
If I were now to disparage business – if I were to call it “basically amoral” or “a necessary evil” or “just some means to an end” – you my audience would rightly be shocked. But other gatherings have both sent and received such negative messages. The Church has at times said or at least hinted that business is less worthy than, for example, the state of priesthood or professions such as law and medicine. No, let me insist: business is a noble pursuit! At its best and most true to its nature and potential, business serves the common good. Let me draw out four facets of this noble purpose:
First, co-creation. Those in business have the privilege and duty to prolong and collaborate in God’s continuing creation. Business, entrepreneurship, is a genuine calling from God: a calling to be a co-creator in a responsible way, thereby contributing to the unfolding of God’s design for the world.
If you liked the exam questions about foundations, here is a question to probe the purpose of business:
Q4. How should a business inspired by Catholic Social Teaching combine making money and making a difference?
3. The Vocation of the Business Leader
Engaging in business is a noble vocation.
Every business enterprise is a unique and evolving cluster of relationships, and the role of the executive, manager or administrator is to care for and nurture the relationships among stakeholders. The business leader’s task is to make sure that communication between everyone is sufficient and constructive, that each participant has the opportunity to develop personally and professionally, and that the harmony of the whole cluster of relationships is not only safeguarded but enhanced. Understanding what everyone’s needs are, in order to be able to organize, evaluate and improve all the relationships, is the bread and butter of business education.
The usual view is that stakeholders include owners, investors, employees, clients and suppliers. But our essential adjective “Catholic” adds the challenge of universality. It challenges business leaders to stretch beyond the company walls and include ever-widening concentric circles until they embrace the whole human family including the not-yet-born:
To protect the inalienable dignity of all humans.
To enhance the integral human flourishing of all –
“the development of the whole man and of all men”[1]
as both Paul VI and Benedict XVI put it.
To enhance everyone’s opportunity to seek the fullness of life (Jn 10:10).
All this means living out one’s vocation in a way that contributes to the society in which one operates, locally and well beyond.
In this connection, I think of Jesus the Good Shepherd because the shepherd is a traditional figure of leadership and stewardship. When the terrain is familiar, the shepherd walks behind the flock to make sure that no one strays and gets left behind. That would be a good business leader who keeps in mind the needs and abilities of all his stakeholders, not leaving any of them out from benefiting from the business they’re involved in. At other times, when the terrain is difficult, dangerous or unknown, the shepherd walks in front of the sheep, seeking out a safe path to green pastures. This too would be a good business leader, assessing the changing conditions, taking huge risks, breaking into the unknown, and always leading by example.
Besides the Good Shepherd, I also think of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet – whoever wishes to lead must also serve (Jn 13:1-17). And I think of His concern for Martha: for her to flourish fully, she should join in the learning and discussion, as did her sister Mary, rather than only prepare the meal (Lk 10:38-42).
With these images in mind, I would formulate another exam question:
Q5. Discuss how a Catholic business leader could exercise his or her vocation in a particular business setting of your choosing. What are the important dimensions that must be addressed? What means could the leader use to improve relationships and enhance human flourishing?
4. Proper Conduct in Business
The proper conduct of a business leader is informed by his or her ethics, character and world view.[1] This is why it is important that we not only teach new leaders the tasks and best practices of business. We must also help them to develop a moral compass what will enable them to find the right solutions even when in uncharted territory.
What helps the business leader grasp what is good is a well-formed character and mature faith. The ability to call upon the good habits of thought, choice and action – that will help future entrepreneurs to become good men and women capable of addressing the ethical and economic challenges which they face every day in a coherent way.
Many choices today are presented as either/or and conflict-driven – profit or social impact, the workforce versus management, north against south, poor against rich. The solutions are one-sided – the winner takes all.
Our faith offers a different approach. Think of the Eucharist where we have at the same time the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but also bread and wine. Is this an either/or situation? At first glance these seem to be mutually exclusive states. But with the eye and reason of our faith, it becomes a wonderful both/and. What is perceived to be opposed becomes a beautiful and complementary unity. I encourage you to use this ancient insight of our mother Church and apply it in your teaching and research. It seems to me that the both/and approach of the Church makes for very good strategy, in many areas of life, and that reconciling what others perceive as opposites can be a great business strategy.
In addition, far too many situations nowadays are seen through a prism of conflict. It seems that every contact is based on conflict, every interaction a zero sum game that demands a winner and a loser. Again, that is fundamentally opposed to the Christian worldview. Christ is Lord of all, God is the creator of the Universe and source of all. The gifts are many, the Spirit is one. St. Paul describes the Church as the Body of Christ, where many parts form one body (1 Cor 12). We can use this as an analogy for the entire human family. Our interactions are not designed for conflict; God meant them to be complementary, productive, fruitful and
peaceful. God did not create the universe with conflict on his mind, but with peace and harmony. Thus our interactions, be they economic, civic or personal, are not aimed at winner-takes-all but at win/win collaboration. We need each other like the body needs every part. I believe that using the collaboration view rather than the conflict view as a guide in your business teaching and research has great potential and will bear much fruit.
One of the most appreciated features of Vocation is the appendix entitled “Discernment Checklist for the Business Leader.” Here, in the form of 30 questions, you find an examination of conscience informed by Catholic social teaching. In such a discernment or self-examination one asks, in the light of the ideals and values embraced, “Have I done well enough, or is there room for improvement? Where I have failed, how can I reverse the failure?”
Of course, your ethics instruction will alert students to the difference between a Christian ethics of virtue and character and other approaches – some well-intended but limited, others downright cynical as in “We didn’t get caught so all is well.” With that in mind, your exam question could take this form:
Q6. Describe a serious ethical dilemma in a business setting of your choice and indicate how you might defend a decision, based on Christian moral principles, that differs from suggestions and justifications offered by other value frameworks.
5. The Balanced Life
Business schools teach a way to make a living; Catholic business schools also teach how to live a good life.
Good leadership starts with leading a good life. Living authentically is the cornerstone of good leadership, and that cannot happen if the leader is unsure of his or her vocation in life. Helping in this search is one of the key advantages Catholic business school can provide to its students. I am happy to see many of your schools focusing on growth in faith and character development and helping students to explore and find their vocation.
Living out one’s discovered vocation requires balance. No one leaves school intending to have a bad marriage or broken relationships with their children and parents, but it happens all too often as a result of an unbalanced life. Being pulled into many directions and spending most of their waking hours at work, many of our colleagues lose sight of what is really important to them and find themselves without the strength to change the course of their lives.
In educating your students, please help them learn how to seek balance in life. Remind them of Ecclesiastes 3:1-12, “There is a time for everything,” and this means taking time –
Time for family and friends and also for oneself.
Time for recreation and relaxation.
Time for physical and spiritual exercise.
Time for an active parish life and for volunteer service.
It is in the balance of these aspects with work that we find meaning and joy. Leaders in particular are called upon to provide their organizations with the inspiration for that balance, which they do more in action than by
dispensing advice. For one cannot give what one does not have. Here your task of educating the next generations of leaders is crucial, not only to the economy, but also to our community, Church and families.
Well-balanced lives are expressed in self-gift: leaders who give of themselves, continually seek out ways in which to contribute, through their company efforts as well as through volunteering their time, talents and treasure. That is the true sign of the servant leader.
I know that you expect another final exam question here. But balance in life is a matter of practices, not theoretical knowledge. What I would prefer, for this pillar of Catholic business education, is that graduating students meet with their mentor or counselor, reflect on the balance and the imbalance that they have experienced in their lives so far, and plan seriously for how they will maintain balance in the future.
Photo Courtesy of The University of Dayton

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