“Mankind was my business.” (A leadership lesson from the ghost of Jacob Marley)

Jacob MarleyWhat is the purpose of a business? Search the internet for an answer and you will find different opinions. Many economists would say the purpose of a business is “profit maximization.”

Peter Drucker said the only valid purpose for a business is “to create a customer.” Yes, profits are necessary, but Drucker adds that “the customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence. He alone gives employment.”

What does Wiki Answers say? According to Wiki, “the purpose of a business is to fill a need. Money comes after.”

These are all well and good. And yes, profits ARE necessary.

However, in Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, the ghost of Jacob Marley warns Ebenezer Scrooge of the perils of focusing only on profits at the expense of his responsibility to others.  He tells Ebenezer:

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

So… what is the business of any leader? To make a difference in the lives of others– employees and their families, customers, suppliers, and even shareholders.  Yes, we need to ensure the organization is profitable AND do well by our fellow men and women.

During this holiday season, what can you do to demonstrate that mankind is your business? Let me know your ideas.

About the author:

John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies.  You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of every month.

11 thoughts on ““Mankind was my business.” (A leadership lesson from the ghost of Jacob Marley)

  1. I believe it is the small act, for one or a small group of people, that makes the biggest difference. In the song ‘Easy to Be Hard’ (showing my 70’s music roots…) the lyric says it all: ‘Do you only care about the bleeding crowd? How about a needing friend, I need a friend”. Making that call to a down and out or ill old classmate or friend or an elderly relative or neighbor, forgiving someone’s long-ago transgression, making a meal for a group home – these are all acts of kindness that directly impact another human being. Donations to the big non-profits are necessary of course, but grabbing that little tag off the Christmas tree at your church, and actually shopping for one person you don’t even know will bring love to both your hearts.

    • Thanks Jim. I could not agree more. One of my favorite quotes is: “It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.”
      –Dag Hammarskjöld, past secretary-general of the United Nations

  2. We can use our position as business people to impact our culture and influence people. As the previous writer indicates, we may only need to impact one or two people. This may be our calling. If we take care of our people, the profits will be adequate to sustain the business. Profit with out people is hollow, at best.

  3. Great lesson from a great movie John. Too many people get sidetracked by the short-term benefits of a business. People are at the core of it and when you neglect the need to make a difference in their lives, you’re missing out.

  4. Great piece. Thanks for sharing. To the belief that ‘mankind is my business’ to which I fully subscribe, one idea is this: bring Ken Blanchard together with Dlush Beverage Joint. Dlush is set to open a marquee store centercourt in the heart of the UCSD campus here in La Jolla. The youth-oriented retail concept is an ideal training ground to cultivate business life skills for coming of age leaders. Dlush embraces the ‘mankind is business’ approach and perhaps there are ways to come together – a preeminent leadership group like KB with a beehive of youth employees to drive lessons that matter as these college students become our future leaders. No better learning that from in the octagon.

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