Today while walking the dogs, I was thinking about parallels between business and sport. No, not the aspect that first might leap to mind, about winners and losers. And you know, I don’t think either business or sport is primarily about those two categories in the first place.
Imagine that an industry or even a profession is like a sport. Healthcare, tech, banking, investments, law, medicine, academics, manufacturing, are in a sense analogous to big overall team sports like football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. Individual companies, firms, or practices in those industries or professions are akin to teams, and they have within them more teams. An industry, or profession, like a sport, provides us human beings with a framework where we can develop our talents, grow, and make a difference in the world.
Hang with me for a minute. Let’s think of business and sport as frameworks, or matrices, within which human talent can be developed, molded, and unleashed to pursue excellence, and perhaps greatness. As such, they are spiritual endeavors. Leaders are needed in all such frameworks. So are strategies and tactics and education or training. And I think talent then has to be developed in three ways:
1. Through the development of skill.
2. Through the development of character.
3. Through the development of intellect.
Excellence depends on all three. The skill component is the most obvious. Football players need to learn to tackle, and block, and handle a ball. Basketball players need to develop skills of moving, defending, passing, rebounding, and shooting. But character is just as important. Excellence in any competitive sport or industry requires courage, grit, tenacity, determination, persistence and honesty. At its highest and broadest levels, it requires empathy, kindness, and fairness to others. And then there is the mind. Great performers hone their minds, cultivate their intellectual understanding, and then know how to use the deeper realms of the mind, such as the unconscious, or the imagination, to go where no one has gone before and do what no one has done before.
Ethics in business, a profession, or a sport, is about being true to those three forms of development, while being true to yourself and others. Nothing less is ever genuinely great. So ethics is never just icing on the cake. It’s a crucial aspect of the entire baking endeavor, and the cake itself. Of course, the Greek word from which ethics derives, ethos, meant character. The character of a team, business, or professional endeavor depends on the development of individual skill, character, and intellect on the part of all the players involved. Their proper personal growth makes possible great teamwork, which then makes possible further growth, in what philosophers call a virtuous circle of flourishing. This is the power of ethics in everything.