A response to the BBC’s recent article “Have the Quaker business leaders had their day?
Many people in the world today are suffering from the pressure of trying to live up to what are really horrific current world values – the idea of self-gratification through get rich quick schemes that don’t care who gets hurt, abused or exploited in the process, along with the power hungry attitude that believes in criticism and abuse as a method of controlling people through fear and anxiety.
These are the values that have sadly driven businesses and power hungry people to the top for many years and left society with an unhealthy and demotivated workforce!
However to those wise enough to observe the world and humanity it becomes obvious that things are changing and people are becoming more and more conscious of the effects of this very unhealthy way of working – they are beginning to see the real cost in terms of human suffering, stress and illness as well as the effects of our attitude towards the planet.
Quakers have always been forward looking with social awareness and peace as values at the heart of what they do but recently a BBC article seemed to be claiming that there wasn’t a place for this sort of thinking in business today! I totally disagree – there has never been a time when high moral and ethical values were not needed in business and that includes right now! There might not be the visible need for a campaign against slavery but slavery still happens and people are becoming aware of the cruelty of child labour and exploited workers. The plight of the poor may be hidden behind our media headlines that focus upon the rich but the poor and homeless are still amongst us.
There is a growing need for Moral values and ethics to inform the world of business to a different, more socially conscious, way of working and that is part of my work here in Darlington.
The old money and greed driven world is dying, there is another option, there is a new world out there for those with the wisdom and eyes to see it, a new way of doing business and relating to those around us that is sweeping those old unhealthy attitudes out of the door and not before time!
In the new world people buy from people and they choose those people carefully with thought and consideration after informing themselves about the character and values of those people. Those we do business with are becoming more and more aware of ethical and moral values being important to them and that affects who they buy from!
These things have been driven to the forefront of business awareness through social action and social campaigning but also through personal dissatisfaction with life and the general discomfort of living in such a high stress, self-centred, greedy culture and our own experiences of exploitation and unethical practices.
In a world where stress and depression have become the most significant reason for time lost from work in the western world – something had to give!
Perhaps you have felt some of these stresses and strains in your own working or personal lives?
I certainly have, I’ve worked in a job where I was belittled and treated like some sort of servant who was expected to be thankful for being allowed to work! I hated that job and I hated their management system and approach to their workers and I have to say that the day I told them I had resigned and wasn’t coming back was one of the most wonderful days of my life! I haven’t looked back since but I have had to stand up to people who saw their workers just like that – it is an injustice, it is immoral and unethical!
After that episode followed a wonderful time of my life - teaching sailing and diving out in the red sea – something I really loved doing and I experienced the beauty of a very simple and uncomplicated life, it was brought to an end through personal circumstances which brought me back to the UK.
Then I was brought in to help develop a sailing and diving school. We had a good team of instructors and our way of life was very pleasant, green and happy. Within a year of me joining the business it went from a small two boat school taking five to ten people out for a training holiday, to a six boat school which of course meant more jobs and more customers and it was all working very well, we had our struggles but basically it was working fine, until we suffered a disaster. One of our boats was involved in an accident at sea which wasn’t our fault at all in fact we won the court case against the other party and were awarded 100% liability against them. Unfortunately we then experienced the consequences of being in a sick money grabbing immoral and unethical world. In short the accident cost us everything, because of clever legal footwork and behind the scenes deals in which the big insurance company defending the other side managed to worm their way out of paying costs for the court case and left us destitute!
We hadn’t done anything wrong but we ended up having to pay the solicitors, barristers, Queen’s council and the rest, for two years work and because of a legal loophole this wasn’t covered by our insurances. The banks didn’t care they just wanted to see more money coming their way.
If we had been better prepared and insured we would probably still have been going today, as it happened, it meant losing the business, our personal possessions and our dignity too! The stresses and strain on our families were unbearable!
Having said that I survived through the support and encouragement of my family and real friends and I went on to different work and started all over again.
It took a lot to admit that I needed help back then because another seriously mistaken belief of the modern world is that we have to be strong and do everything ourselves and not admit to being in difficulty but once I got the help I needed, I became much more stable and confident again, the experience had almost destroyed me or at least that was how I felt at the time but I had survived.
This wasn’t the only disaster in my life but the point is that in a supportive culture you can survive and do even better!
However, there is a difference between surviving and thriving and I have gone on to thrive once again but to be fair I wouldn’t have without more help and support at times when I needed it, the one thing that really worked for me, was and is a supportive and caring team combined with regular coaching and counselling. I have a particular interest in mental health and I have found that working on self-awareness, understanding of my emotions, fears and anger and how that relates to my thinking and behaviour is a very important part of the process of building moral and ethical businesses because it is through self-awareness that we become able to be aware of not only our emotions but also how we react to those emotions and how our reactions make us behave and the effect that behaviour has on other people!
I’m happy now to be in full swing and able to take on my own personal “Quaker Challenge!”
The group ‘Quakers and business’ have as a core value “speaking the truth to those in power”
That isn’t always easy when those in power are focussed upon their cash profits and return on financial investments and you want them to focus upon their employees, communities and those who need to be helped.
“Are Quaker values surviving in the modern world?”
“Abraham Darby, George Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree were captains of industry, their names synonymous with the industrial revolution and the history of British business.
They were also known for their honesty and paternalistic way of caring for their workforce which stemmed from their Quaker beliefs.
But have the Quaker business leaders had their day?”
Her article explains the wonderful work done by Quakers in the past but doesn’t reach any conclusion about the place of Quakers in business today.
So are Quakers simply surviving rather than thriving in today’s world?
The difference between surviving and thriving has been summed up nicely by someone who explained that a survivor is someone who ensures that when the ship goes down they get a place in the lifeboat. Someone who thrives on the other hand is the person who gets into the lifeboat then grabs the oars and gets to where they need or want to be!
So many people are either sinking or just surviving at the moment and they need to get back into control of their lives but to take the lifeboat analogy a bit further a wise person who wants to thrive would ensure that they picked up others and that they worked together on getting where they needed to be! It is much easier to work together with like-minded people to ensure you are going to get there.
I felt that this was something that was highlighted recently at the meeting for wardens of Quaker meeting houses at woodbrooke college, those meeting houses that thrived were engaged with their communities and well used by various groups for supporting needy people. Where sustainability was concerned it was clear that supporting and involving as many people as possible was the real way forward!
In other words where the community groups and room users were seen as valued members of the community worth supporting, where they were treated as valued people and involved in discussions and decisions, rather than simply valueless sources of financial income; where they were met with enthusiasm, warmth, personal interest and hospitality, they in return supported and upheld the worth of the meeting houses they were hiring.
The thing that those Quaker businessmen of the past are remembered for isn’t that they made a fortune, it was that they had a care for their workers and the community in which they enjoyed the privilege of having their businesses. It was their social investment in those communities that has made their names remembered and honoured and of course where there is investment in communities and workers you get investment of their good will in return.
So what is the challenge for Quakers and others whether in business or simply as landlords or meetings open to others today?
In my mind it is simply this – How to open our own eyes and the eyes of the world to the very real social needs around us? How do we support those who are really struggling to make ends meet?
How can we move from being property rich and investment rich to become socially rich and supportive of those in our communities who need help and work and to be valued as human beings?
Do we invest in Banks that are avoiding their tax liabilities but that give us the highest financial returns or are we investing in low interest loans and credit unions that are supporting strugglingsmall businesses to survive?
Do we run our organisations in the old world power hungry, money focussed way or are we prepared to put people and social action to the forefront of what we do?
I’m often introduced as a life and business coach but that’s not a very good description really because I’m more of a personal consultant, what I really do is I help individuals, business owners and those from other organisations to look at and tackle their problems and issues in a completely different way so that they can be proud of their work and their lives! I use assessments that measure how self aware they are and how well they relate to other people in a meaningful way, I help them to become more socially and ethically aware of what they do and how they relate to those around them.
Most people have similar challenges but it is how we approach those challenges that makes a difference to whether we simply survive or go on to build strong social businesses and networks that can thrive!
For most people life in the modern world is similar, for those working for someone else they are simply trying to do what they have to do in order to stay in their job, or, for some, they are simply trying not to get caught doing what they shouldn’t be doing, so that they can stay in their job but generally they are trying to make ends meet and satisfy the needs of a hectic home life! If they are dissatisfied or not motivated then they are neither giving the best they can give to their work nor are they going to be faithful to their employer – they will constantly be looking for a better opportunity and a way out. At that point they are at the mercy of the bully, power hungry, money oriented boss!
If you work for yourself on the other hand, you always want to be really good at what you do but often don’t have time to do it because when you are in business for yourself you are spending all your life long hours sorting out the paperwork, accounts, websites, marketing leaflets, avoiding paying the bills because you can’t afford to pay them whilst, chasing up the people who haven’t paid you and who have left you short of funds, doing the cleaning, maintenance, security jobs that need to be done etc. etc. etc.
You either struggle on your own which perhaps will end in failure or you are again at the mercy of money oriented power hungry service providers, landlords, councils etc.
This doesn’t just work for individuals it’s the same for organisations too – if you don’t have a good social, moral and ethical approach to those around you they will go elsewhere, people vote with their feet and of course they take their wallets and purses with them!
There is an alternative way of working – By focus upon social investment and development of personal values amongst their staff, some of the biggest and most profitable businesses in the world are finding that they gain loyalty from their staff and by investing in specialist personal coaching in developing self-awareness and empathy they have increased morale, productivity and retention of their most valued personnel. Where that impacts on customers and clients you get much better customer service and satisfaction and of course all of that means higher sales and support too.
It is this social investment that the Quaker leaders of the past knew was so important and it is certainly the core values of my own work. Through specialist training courses and personal consultation these are the values I try to help others adopt as I believe such an attitude can really change the world, a little at a time admittedly but everything starts out small. A few years ago no-one had heard of fair-trade but now every big supermarket is selling fair-trade goods – a social change brought about by the power of the purchaser saying old ways were not acceptable – the world moves on and businesses, charities and other organisations including churches, need to become more ethical, co-operative and community biased if they are going to survive in this new world.
My role today is in providing social and emotional intelligence assessments and training courses as a certified coach of the Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence. These assessments and courses are intended to support the move towards this new world way of working and investing.
My real challenge in the world today is how to encourage businesses, and others to take up this challenge with me!
There are many who are already working in this way but we all have something to learn.It is impossible to understand what it is that limits us in this if we have no way of assessing where we are and the SEI assessment can be very revealing and helpful – it certainly was for me!
So I do believe there is a need for Quaker values in business today and I am here to encourage not just Quakers but all who believe in the transformation of this world to a more caring, supportive and fundamentally human place, where all people are valued, where those in need are supported by those with the means to do so and those in power use their power wisely, ethically, morally and kindly for the good of their communities.
If you would like to experience the SEI assessment, together with a short period of training for your business, organisation, leadership team, or meeting I would be happy to provide you with help towards transforming this world of ours.
0800 093 8397