Thursday, May 1, 2008

Integrity Pays

“The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”
Proverbs 12:22, New International Version

In the past several years, we have seen the devastating effects of dishonest business leaders at Enron, WorldCom, Xerox, Qwest, Tyco, ImClone, Anderson, and others. They fraudulently gained short-term profits but in the end lost everything, with many going to prison. A phrase from the Shinto religion states, “If you plot and connive to deceive men, you may fool them for a while, and profit thereby, but you will without fail be visited by divine punishment. To be utterly honest may have the appearance of inflexibility and self-righteousness, but in the end, such a person will receive the blessings.” Honesty is key to long-term success. David Green, founder of the billion-dollar Hobby Lobby stores, wrote, “It’s all part of our corporate commitment to follow biblical principles in everything we do. Some businesspeople think that’s a noble claim but that it ties one hand behind your back. I disagree. Nothing taught in the Bible is harmful to business. Doing things God’s way pays dividends—maybe not immediately, but in the long run.”

Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos, founders of Amway, ran their company according to Bible principles. Jay Van Andel wrote in his biography, “Rich and I sought to run our . . . organization according to biblical principles of integrity, faithfulness, and truthfulness. . . Knowing that we were dependent upon God for the ability to do what was right, we bathed our activities in private prayer. All of our corporate meetings were opened with prayer. . . A business without integrity will be penalized in the marketplace. If a business’s products don't meet the claims of its advertisers, or if product quality is inconsistent, the business will lose customers to its competitors. Skilled employees, frustrated with internal policies, depart for other jobs. On the other hand, a firm known for its integrity will be rewarded by increased demand for its products and greater customer and employee loyalty.” Kevin Rollins, Former President/CEO of Dell said, “Part of the genius of an open free market system is that integrity pays. . . In the end, customers, employees, and shareholders gravitate toward companies with stable leadership—those that are credible and have integrity.”

Does your loyalty lie with God or with man? When faced with decisions that involve social pressure, we need to decide if we are going to follow the commands of the Lord or the counsel of men. Often we seek to please those around us or participate in actions we know to be wrong because we don't want to offend or displease those around us. Are we like the accountant who, when asked by a CEO, “Tell me, what is two plus two?” replies, “What do you want it to be?” Or are we like the apostle Peter when he stood with boldness and strength before magistrates and rulers who could imprison him, flog him, and even take his life. On one occasion when brought before the high priest to be questioned why he had violated their command not to preach, “Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29, King James Version)

When is Success a Failure?
When God’s commandments are violated in the pursuit of profits, success is a failure. One of Gandhi’s seven sins that destroy society is “commerce without morality.” It represents a moral end (commerce) achieved by an immoral means (without morality). Immoral means corrupt a worthy end into a dishonorable achievement. You cannot achieve a moral end by immoral means. Financial ends never justify unethical means.

The son of a business executive, Robert Gay, shared this story: “I grew up in a brutal business environment. My father worked as the chief executive for one of the richest men in the world, Howard Hughes, and that world turned many lives upside down. I witnessed firsthand greed, deception, power struggles, and destruction of souls all for the sake of money. But perhaps what influenced me most is what I had seen in Mr. Hughes himself. For many years on Christmas Eve or Easter Sunday, this annual ritual was not what it appeared to be; Mr. Hughes invited my father to his home. When my father arrived, Mr. Hughes would simply say, ‘Bill, I just wanted to talk.’ Then after a couple of hours of friendly conversation he would say, ‘It’s Christmas. You better get back to your family.’ And I remember thinking to myself: ‘With all the money, with all the power, all the accomplishments, and even all the good he has done, he is both lonely and alone.’”

A dear friend and business associate of mine, G. Kent Mangelson, shared will me the following: “After nearly thirty years in the financial business and having associated with thousands of wealthy individuals, I have developed a firm philosophy about people and money. If an individual does not clearly establish personal values and goals before making financial goals, then wealth and the accumulation thereof will begin to take on a life of its own. Without clearly established values to keep the individual’s direction in focus, money tends to distract the person, gradually moving him or her away from everything in life that means the most. Sadly, and all too often, when it is too late to repair the damage, the person discovers that he or she has lost those things that meant the most and that all the money in the world cannot buy nor replace that which is gone.”

While fudging the numbers, using deceptive tactics, profiting from immoral products, and exploiting employees may be the industry standard, there is a minority who have chosen to rise above the industry standard and adhere to religious and moral principles in their business affairs. Our challenge is to join this minority. The business world is full of deceit and immorality, but it will only get worse unless each of us becomes an example in our work of integrity and living the Lord’s standard. Give heed to the words of the apostle Paul who taught, “Continue to have faith and do what you know is right.” (1 Timothy 1:19, New Century Version)

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