Michael Smith is a freelance journalist and author of books that focus on values in business and economy. He was head of Business Programs at Initiatives of Change UK (2010 – 2017) and was part of the organising team for a series of international conferences on Trust & Integrity in the Global Economy, held at Caux, Switzerland (2006 – 2016). He is the author of Beyond The Bottom Line (2001), Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy (2007) and Great Company (2015).
Smith’s latest book Leading with Integrity was published in the US and UK in July 2019, in Sri Lanka at the end of 2019, in India in January 2020 and the Australian launch took place on 21 February at a gathering at Armagh. He spoke to Parveen Muhammed about his latest book.
‘Creating a new culture in the business world that would hopefully lead to a fairer society,’ is how Smith summarises his motivation to write this new book. The book is a collection of best business practice stories of integrity, cooperation, stewardship, purpose and sustainability; ‘It is not an academic book but a story book, to inspire and motivate,’ said Smith.
Smith believes that the ‘tone at the top has an impact down the line’ and aims his concepts at business leaders who he hopes will take on these principals in their operations. Fairness, empathy, integrity and listening skills are the four core areas Smith highlights as crucial for businesses to focus on. This overall concept is a cultural shift for many businesses and it’s the primary challenge for the sector. It is a conscious move away from only focussing on the return to investors towards a more broad consciousness of other factors.
A business culture that considers the interest of all stakeholders - employees, customers, suppliers and wider society, is empathetic, has the highest levels of integrity in operations and can listen to what stakeholders have to say. This is what’s needed for a cultural change to take place, elaborated Smith. At the same time, businesses should not only be considering the interest of current stakeholders, but of future generations since the issue of climate change is of crucial importance in the world today highlighted Smith. ‘High moral standards, integrity, purity of heart, unselfishness and a love for the planet and the people is what is needed,’ he summarised.
Living the values
Smith is confident that trust and Integrity are not a lost art in the business world but warns that there is a danger of losing them if not practiced. ‘We have to keep living the values, which is what ethical leadership is all about’ - Leaders have to put values into practice and have the strength to do the right thing, which sometimes can mean loss but can also be a great gain in main ways, said Smith.
Drawing parallels with Gandhi’s notion of the ‘inner voice and inner listening’ Smith elaborated that self-reflection is a concept that is needed at both a personal and professional level. IofC has always had a focus on self-reflection, practiced through quiet time, and Smith is of the opinion that if this concept is applied to the business world, then it will make a huge difference. He believes that this will also allow business leaders to be ‘in tune’ with the interests of employees, customers, the supply chain, the environment and the wider community.
Many big corporations have adopted these positive values and are conscious of being accountable to their stakeholders. At an employer level it is common for businesses to encourage employees to take time off and to promote mindfulness exercises as part of daily routine. At the business level there are positive discussions and roundtables happening around the world on this topic. Smith feels that the ‘trend is in the right direction,’ with companies taking the extra step needed to be more environmentally conscious. For example, businesses are taking actions such as the conscious planting of trees to counter emissions produced by vehicles and rewarding recycling or the use of alternative energy sources.
However is the overall cultural change happening fast enough? Smith hopes his book is a small step towards motivating more people in the business world to be more conscious about their operations beyond simply the bottom line.
- If you would like to purchase a copy of the book Leading with Integrity please contact the IofCA office on 03 9822 1218 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org