When businesses and market economies function properly and focus on serving the common good, they contribute greatly to the material and even the spiritual well-being of society.
Recent experience, however, has also demonstrated the harm caused by the failings of businesses and markets. Alongside their benefits, the transformative developments of our era—globalisation, communication and computing technologies, and financialisation—produce problems: inequality, economic dislocation, information overload, ecological damage, financial instability, and many other pressures that interfere with serving the common good.
Nonetheless, business leaders, who are guided by ethical social principles exemplified through lives of virtue, can succeed and contribute to the common good.
Obstacles to serving the common good come in many forms—corruption, absence of rule of law, tendencies towards greed, and poor stewardship of resources—but the most significant for a business leader on a personal level is leading a divided life.
The alternative path of faith-based “servant leadership” provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps them to balance the demands of the business world with those of ethical social principles. This is explored through three stages: seeing, judging, and acting, even though it is clear that these three aspects are deeply interconnected.
SEEING: The challenges and opportunities in the world of business are complicated by factors both good and evil, including five major “signs of the times” influencing business.
“Vocation - Business - Common Good”
• Globalisation has brought efficiency and extraordinary new opportunities to businesses, but the drawbacks include greater inequality, economic dislocation, cultural homogeneity, and the inability of governments to properly regulate capital flows.
• Communications and computing technologies have enabled connectivity, new solutions and products, and lower costs, but its amazing velocity also brings information overload and rushed decision-making.
• Financialisation of business worldwide has intensified tendencies to commoditise the goals of work and to emphasise wealth maximisation and short-term gains at the expense of working for the common good.
• Environmental awareness has brought a growing ecological consciousness within business, but there still exists a growing consumerism and “throwaway” culture that damages nature both in its physical and human dimensions.
• Cultural changes of our era have led to increased individualism, more family breakdowns, and utilitarian preoccupations with self and “what is good for me”. As a result we have more private goods but are lacking significantly in common goods. Business leaders increasingly focus on maximising wealth, employees develop attitudes of entitlement, and consumers demand instant gratification at the lowest possible price. As values have become relative and rights more important than duties, the goal of serving the common good is often lost.