Attend any introductory course to business, and one of the first things that are pronounced is that the prime objective of a business is to earn a profit. Profit is indeed the lifeblood of any company. Without profit, a business cannot invest and grow to broaden and expand its offerings. Without profit, there are fewer jobs to offer to the community.
However, to speak about profit without considering the means through which the gain occurs misses a significant aspect of the business experience. There are many ways to lead a business to profit. Not all routes are sustainable or virtuous. History has provided us with too many examples of companies who chose to cut corners, endanger their staff, and harm their customers to eke out the profit that they covet. These regrettable tales demonstrate that there is more to business than the blind ambition of profit.
If profit is the lifeblood of a company, trust is the heart that animates it. Without trust, a company cannot successfully gain new clients and keep existing ones. Without trust, a company cannot inspire collaboration and innovation among its staff. Without trust, a company cannot sustain the relationships required to obtain quality raw material and services from its vendors. Without trust, the entire enterprise collapses into an inanimate state and dies. Therefore, above all things, earning and maintaining trust is at the core of operating a business, profit is but an outcome.
Trust is gained through each decision and interaction that we encounter during the day. When our choices fail to consider the impact of our actions upon others – our team, our vendors, our clients – trust is compromised. When frank and genuine dialogue decomposes into the spin, hyperbole, or straight-out dishonesty, trust rapidly erodes into dust that is blown away with the slightest breeze. Viktor Frankl, the famed author of Man’s Search for Meaning, speaks to the opportunity and free will that each of us has when faced with a decision, “between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The expression “do the right thing” speaks to this very moment when a person is presented with a challenge, opportunity, or a decision, and before them lay many paths which lead to a common end. The “right thing” is the choice that considers the far-reaching impact of a decision. It is relationship-based. It demands an opportunity for mutual benefit and fosters collaboration. Indeed, the “right thing” is seldom easy or convenient, and there will be times when we all stumble along the way, but choosing to participate in the virtuous cycle rather than to descend into the vicious cycle makes all the difference.