Following an Aristotelian Roadmap

By J.F. McKenna

Election 2012 is over, but daunting national challenges remain. President Obama and Congress publicly weigh the dangers inherent in fiscal-cliff diving. Business and industry leaders acknowledge that Baby New Year may arrive on scene already owing on his sash and top hat. And business-media pundits offer little in the way of high-definition insights, let alone solutions.

That hoary French aphorism comes to mind—Au pays des aveugles les borgnes sont rois. True, in the land of the blind the one-eyed men are indeed kings. On our current economic road, however, the myopia displayed by the President and his Beltway co-drivers gives the rest of us reason to shift uncomfortably in the backseat.

Even as I tap on my laptop, your humble correspondent finds himself likewise bereft of specific answers for the problems of debt, deficit and sluggish economic growth, either in English or in French. So maybe some classical Greek is in order—Aristotelian Greek, to be precise.

Seven years ago, two Baldwin-Wallace College professors harnessed their respective expertise in business and in religion to write a leadership text based on Aristotle’s seven classical virtues—courage, faith, justice, prudence, temperance, love and hope. The timing of their book, Integrity Is a Growth Market: Character-Based Leadership, was perfect, offering scholarly yet street-smart hope in the days after the Enron scandal and the emergence of the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. Today, the value of Alan Kolp and Peter Rea’s book is even greater.

“The goal of this book is to integrate concepts that focus on enduring wisdom (virtue and character) with concepts that focus on contemporary business issues (value and competence),” the authors write. “Character is about identity—who we want to be and how we can make a life that is bigger than ourselves. Competence is about action—what we need to know and how we execute our ideas to serve stakeholders.”

Memo to those fellows and gals in D.C.: Integrity Is a Growth Market is more than your average business book. It’s equally instructive reading for the representatives of We the People, many of whom think you I-495 folks should tend to your own garden and allow the expression free enterprise to live up to its adjective.

Not long after the Enron scandal hit the front pages, the creation of Integrity Is a Growth Market was put in motion by Rea, chairman of the college’s Business Administration Division, and his colleague Kolp, holder of the Moll Chair in Faith and Life and a professor of religion. Collaboration on a single article soon evolved into their book, which one Ohio-based CEO has praised as a guide that “relies on ideas that have stood the test of time.”

“We were intrigued by what each of us would bring to the conversation,” Kolp told me at the time Cincinnati-based Atomic Dog Press issued the book. Too many business books, Rea said, were chockablock with don’ts, “but not many rules on the dos.” The scholarly duo, with its mission set, even enlisted the guidance of working executives to field-test their writing. Among the bosses was European business leader Pierre-Jean Everaert, who also wrote the book’s preface.

What I particularly value in the Kolp-Rea book is the argument that the ancient Greek’s philosophy couldn’t be more relevant to both the private and the public sector.  “Aristotle,” they write, “did not propose that virtue be used to pursue happiness; rather, happiness occurs as a by-product of doing something worthy—when we do what we are meant to do and when we become who we were meant to be. Aristotle defines success within this context.”

But when so-called success proves distorted, the ROI includes Enron, Solyndra, even Benghazi. That’s why, the authors write, the business world seeks “leaders who can add value (competence) and develop virtue (character) while they create new products, enter new markets and reduce costs.”

The public sector shouldn’t consider itself proscribed from grabbing a share of Aristotelian virtue. Not at all. And the nation’s citizens will happily embrace the by-products. Kolp and Rea’s book can point the way.

That noted, a second memo to the Beltway crowd is in order: Don’t rush the Library of Congress all at once.

 

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a business journalist, communications consultant and former editor of the national manufacturing magazine Tooling & Production. He has chased stories throughout the country and as far away as Japan, Israel and that most exotic of financial lands, Wall Street. With his wife Carol, he also writes the fictional series “Tales from Barker Park” in The Cleveland Canine. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.

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