About Business Class Podcast

This podcast shares research insights and experience based information from the host's career as entrepreneur and educator.

Good leaders smell like sheep

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I served in Sunday’s Good Shepherd mass, and for the priest’s (Fr. Reg Tiongson) homily, he shared the challenge Pope Francis gave when he met with some French priests: the Pope challenged them to be “shepherds who smell like sheep”. This means that they need to be with those in the peripheries of society, those who are alienated, the poor and the needy and those who lost faith. This is challenging because no one wants to smell like sheep!

The shepherd who smells like sheep is a powerful metaphor that can be applied in the context of the workplace, imagine being challenged to eat, to walk, to talk, and to spend time with the lowest ranking people in the office, more often than staying in meetings or in closed office doors. I wonder if you would be willing to take on the challenge to be a shepherd who smells like sheep.

So how can a leader be a shepherd who smells like sheep?

  1. Know the people you work with. Know them by their names. Know their stories, their family background or their hobbies. This can only happen if you spend time with them.
  2. Be approachable. Keep an open door policy, allow people to seek you and air their concerns, problems and hardships to you, but of course, set boundaries.
  3. Be willing to be out there. The Japanese has this principle called Genchi Gembutsu, which means “go and see for yourself”. In other words, know what is happening by being there. I will further push this and say go, see and make your hands dirty. As a leader be willing to do the hard tasks and this could mean working alongside your team.
  4. Bring them to the right way. It is not enough to be working alongside your colleagues. The leader must also be able to lead them to the right direction. This is not just fulfilling the company’s vision but also in terms of personal and spiritual development.
  5. Immerse in their lifestyle. This maybe pushing it a bit too much but it is not harmful to do. Eat with them, try out the products they consume, watch what they watch. These examples give you a clue on what it is like to be in their shoes.

Why would you even do something that you are not paid for? To pay attention to those in the lower rank is important because it means that the leader is connected to the lives and struggles of the people he serves. It leads to stronger relationships and effective teams for the company as well. Yes, it can be challenging to do this, specially in a work environment that only focuses on its financial goals and business objectives.

To be a shepherd who smells like sheep, you need to spend time, listen, act with integrity, immerse, and work alongside with them. By embodying this principle, you create effective teams and meaningful relationships.

Quiet quitting is not the answer

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For some reason, quiet quitting has been on my mind. No, I am not quiet quitting. I just remembered that when there is a new term like this, some people try to fit their situation into the idea. I suddenly saw an influx of social media posts saying they are quiet quitting.

Quiet quitting is the new term for employee disengagement, whereby employees become like zombies at work. They are present but their mind is away and the effort is non-existent. Quiet quitting isn’t a new employee behavior, though the term suddenly became a buzzword latter part of 2022.

There are several reasons why employees get disengaged from work, it could be they are demotivated, or disillusioned because of office politics, poor leadership, no sense of direction, expectation vs. reality, or bad office environment. One of the prevalent reasons is that employees feel they are not compensated justly or their extra mile is not rewarded by the company. Quiet quitting left unmanaged will have a long term effect on the culture of the company.

An article from Gallup suggests that managers need to be engaged and be able to have meaningful conversations with the employees, and “Managers need to create accountability for individual performance, team collaboration and customer value — and employees must see how their work contributes to the organization’s larger purpose.” Many companies have done these yet it seems to be not working as employees are still not pleased.

In a business environment where the objective is to make money, hit numbers, grow the company value, gain status and earn a living disguised as passion, it will truly be hard to reconcile the needs of both the company and their employees.

When only numbers, objectives and salary are what pushes us to work, when there is no meaning and purpose, we are tempted to disengage. If we stay and only do satisfactory work, we are being unfair to the company we serve and we do not maximize our full potential, which is a waste of talent. In cases like this, it is best to be reminded that we are Catholics and that we are called to respond differently: to be excellent (unless, we are abused or unjustly paid. Rather than quiet quitting, find another more fulfilling job), and mediocrity is never the answer.

As Catholics, work is something that “honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him”…. And in hard work, or sacrifice, we are one with Christ: “in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2427)” also, “in work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature.(CCC 2428)” As consequence of good work, “not only will you be supporting yourselves financially, but you will be contributing directly to the development of society. You will be relieving the burdens of others and supporting local and international welfare projects for less privileged individuals and countries. (St. Escriva)”

It is not all work. The CCC recognizes that rest from work is necessary for human welfare and considers it a human right, “human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.”

Prolonged quiet quitting or disengagement is never the answer, it is a waste of human talent. Next time you are tempted to disengage, the choice is either to rest or to be excellent in your current work or in another.

The Workplace as Evangelist

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I am in south of Manila, in my client’s office to deliver a one-day training. They have been my client for the past 5 years and I already have a feel of their needs. I left early from my place to be sure that I won’t get stuck in traffic. Good thing I got here 2 hours before the start of the training.

I have a good first impression of their office building, it is beautiful to say the least. The Japanese inspired architecture is a 2-story building cladded in black and silver, punctuated by vertical picture windows. In the middle is a Zen Garden, an open space full of sunlight with a lone tree protected by a bench. Unfortunately, I do not have a name for the tree. I can only describe it, its branches pointed towards heaven, it leaves look like clasped hands grateful for where it is. Inside the building are walls, and floor mostly of wood, and carpet flooring in some areas to balance the masculine façade.

I do not hear noise. I only hear percolating water and the sound of footsteps from time to time. By this time, after the morning break, people are already in the grove. They are already in their areas working, trying to hit every number in the target. In spite of that, I sense no pressure. That tells me of great leaders who know they work with responsible and accountable people. The good in work and the truth in trusting people makes the place more beautiful.

I also have worked with companies with poor working environment: areas disorganized, dirty and gloomy. People work for the sake of working, living and surviving. There is no spirit, no soul. People come in the morning tired already, leaving the place happy like they have been freed from prison. They company may be making money but that is it, nothing more, no beauty, and nothing that which pleases the eyes.

Most of the time poor environment is a sign of poor leadership and nice environment is a sign of sound leadership unless the values it cultivates is that of not good and untrue which harvests an ugly and gloomy environment.

Beauty is what I used to describe the space, the atmosphere and the environment. Is it beauty that brings good leadership or the other way around? I do not know. I have no answer. It is a chicken and egg issue. But beauty, whether brought by leadership or culture does something. What is it the beauty does?  

Beauty is an abstract concept and depends on how one defines beauty, at least in what is seen by the eyes. Beauty, as we know, leads to positive emotions which translates to happy and productive employees. We have experienced that, the power of a nice environment and good leaders. But the point is not really about beauty creating a cocktail of positive emotions, a drug that make us focused at work.

It is more than that, deeper than that, more profound than that. Beauty transcends the senses and connects directly to our spirit, it communicates to us through our intuition. Beauty aligns us with God. Experiencing that which is beautiful is seeing from the eyes of God.

Effects of Wokism in Business

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Theodor Geisel, wrote on a stationery while inside the ship to New York in 1936, the words, “And this is a story that no one can beat. I saw it all happen on Mulberry Street,”. A year later, that line became the book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” What a tongue twister. This is the first book that launched Geisel as Dr. Seuss. 

Dr. Seuss was born in 1904 and died in 1991. He is a children’s book author, poet and cartoonist. His books sold over 600 million copies and have been translated in more than 20 languages.

My wife and I read Dr. Seuss’ books to our kids when they were toddlers, my eldest son would fall asleep as we read to him Mr. Brown Can Moo Can You? And when he finally learned to speak, he would moo with us. This, I guess, is the same for all the other parents out there because Dr. Seuss is a standard when it comes to classic children’s literature. So it surprised me to learn that his estate voluntarily stopped publishing 6 books with sensitive racial contents. Since then, a lot of articles have come out associating the news with cancel culture. I am not making a conclusion that the move to stop publishing is related or driven by cancel culture, and to clarify, Dr. Seuss has not been cancelled. According to the news, they just decided to stop printing. But since cancel culture has been mentioned and gaining limelight in culture and society, I think this would be a good opportunity to talk about what it is. In this podcast, I want to discuss cancel culture, wokism and how they are associated,  and how it affects businesses and personalities. To understand the culture better we must first understand the philosophy behind it and its history. 

Our journey begins by taking 2 roads, the philosophical roads of postmodernism and Marxism, and where the road meets is wokism and its ultimate expression, cancel culture. Note that I will confine its effects only on personalities and  businesses in the Philippines. 

It started from a chain of reactions. Postmodernism, the prevailing worldview today, is a reaction to the enlightenment. Enlightenment is a reaction to the middle-age philosophy. To better understand, let’s begin with the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, the main philosophy is faith explains everything, or faith comes first before reason. The Church then was the authority in everything. If the church does not allow something, then you can’t touch it and if you decide to tinker with some ideas banned by the church then you are risking your life. However, it did not stop some people from going into the no trespass areas, this led to some changes. The church eased on some issues, it recognized that the physical universe can be studied and learning about its properties will lead man to know God better, but it comes with a condition: that men of reason will attribute everything to God as the first cause. This opening gave birth to what we know today as modern science, and together with it is when reason started to crawl, then slowly it learned to stand up, then it learned to run. Once it did, the philosophy of enlightenment followed, so faith was put on the back seat, because by then, science was able to explain and discover many things in the universe that faith failed to explain before. To define enlightenment better, here is Immanuel Kant. Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. Dare to know! With all the advancements in science and technology, man has reached modernity and has put his complete hope in reason and sciences to bring him lasting happiness, but then something happened that broke him, World War 1. He thought that science and reason are the answers to a beautiful, he was wrong, and so he reacted against enlightenment. His reaction gave birth to postmodernity and the features of postmodernity are: anti-reason, skepticism, and subjectivity.  The 4 philosophers and academics who were all left leaning, led the movement: Michel Focaoult, Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, and Jean-François Lyotard. All their philosophies can be traced back to Immanuel Kant who said that since we cannot know everything, then nothing is objective. In essence, postmodernity is characterized by subjectivity or relativity. This is a quick explanation to postmodernity but it has enough for us to understand wokism. 

The next road we will take is that of Marxism. Marxism is a social, political and economic philosophy that examines the effects of capitalism on people, economy and society. The key idea behind Marxism is that the relationship between capitalists and workers creates conflict and as an effect, the workers are exploited, hence the oppressor and oppressed narrative. So that there is no one that will be oppressed, the philosophy argues for a classless or equal society, that is their moral promise. Many countries like Russia, China, East Germany and others have used the ideology to run the country but have failed both economically and morally.  Since the believers of Marxism are not to give up easily, they went back to the drawing board and looked for a new way to critique capitalism. What they changed was the moral standard: capitalism has been successful in creating wealth as there are less poor people today than before, but they failed in making everyone feel psychologically equal, there are still those who are oppressed in the capitalist system. Here is an example: Women may now have voting rights or have equal access to education, but in terms of pay scheme, they get less than men. 

The road of the oppressed and oppressor narrative crossed the road of subjectivity, and at the crossing is wokism. Woke is a term that refers to awareness of social injustice in society and wokism is the philosophy behind it. The term Social Justice has its roots from liberal values, which promotes freedom, justice and equality. In society it looks like this: that citizens, no matter what class, gender or age,  should get fair and equal treatment in society. Now, for the woke social justice is political correctness and identity politics, a system that gives highly importance to once identity. How it looks like is this: recently in the news, a translator’s work was dropped from translating the work of a young female black activist because he is not young female and black. That’s a quick example of identity politics. So, to bring social justice to society, wokes expose society’s problems judged by the principles of Marxism and postmodernism. 

Wokism originated in the US, but as we have seen, the roots can be traced back to Europe. How it got to the US and spread, is through the academics who went to Europe to study and brought back the idea and injected it in the US academic system as suggested by Steven Hicks, a philosopher who wrote a book on postmodernism and Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay who wrote Cynical theory. The same idea that the ideology will grow from schools was predicted by Herbert Marcuse, the father of modern Marxism. Between the 70’s and 2000’s the ingredients of wokism are slowly growing  into society, although it is not yet known by its name. Then in 2010, the philosophy gained traction, it is evident in the call to be politically correct. 

Now let us look at the role social media played. Our beliefs are influenced and reinforced by what or who we are exposed to. Since we spend hours on social media and streaming, our beliefs no longer come from the immediate family members  , schools or churches. So we have multiple sources of beliefs and a family can consist of members with different beliefs. In a family there can be conservative, or progressive. Gone are the days when one family subscribed to the same idea. Now, this belief is reinforced by social media and search engines. Computer algorithms are programmed to work in such a way that it studies our behavior and shows us what we want to see and what we will agree on and this reinforces our beliefs. Since it has been reinforced daily through the results of our search or those that are fed to us, it becomes an infallible belief to us. Former president Obama even has a story about this during his interview with David Letterman. Here is how the story goes: “Somebody took a liberal, a conservative and quote-unquote a moderate and sent them on a Google search. Egypt — type it in. For the conservative, it came up “Muslim Brotherhood,” and for the liberal it came up “Tahrir Square” [the site of mass public protests in Cairo] and for the moderate it came up “Vacation Spots on the Nile.” … [W]hatever your biases were, that’s where you were being sent.” There is also this study that says, we tend to look for news or articles or join communities that agree with our beliefs. So if you are a conservative, you read articles leaning towards conservative ideas, and you join groups having the same idea. So now, people are formed into different communities with different beliefs. What happens now when beliefs of these groups are challenged? My simple answer is mess. So, who is right?

Michel Foucoult suggests that the source of truth  and knowledge is determined by the one who controls the narrative. If that is the case then one way to control the narrative is to control the source of information, or in a world where everything is subjective, be the loudest or the noisiest. Evidently, one of the noisiest activities is “cancel culture”. It is so noisy that the mob can convince you of their truth claims.

So what is cancel culture? It is how wokes express their wokeness, a modern way of ostracizing, boycotting or calling out someone’s mistake, mostly through social media. As an effect the person or business no longer gets support or the business may lose its reputation and eventually close for business. In order to get cancelled one has to act or say something about controversial matters that are unacceptable or offensive. This reminds me of how Rowan Atkinson describes  “cancel culture”, a “digital equivalent of the medieval mob roaming the streets looking for someone to burn”.

Let us look at how wokism and  cancel culture work in the Philippines with these 4 examples.

One that was canceled at the height of the pandemic is the creator of this rich, educated Auntie who wears these big pearl earrings and gives 1000 pesos to her obedient godchildren. The creator was interviewed in Inquirer Lifestyle about the reason for being cancelled, “I began getting threats on my Facebook page, but I ignored them, when I began posting the Auntie videos, I think I was already being monitored. A group of trolls had formed a chat group which sent messages telling me to take down or delete the Julie videos because they said that I was no longer funny, that I was ugly, and that my being gay was a mistake.” After that he took a bit of a rest from playing the funny aunt.

Another one is a rich Filipina artist who was under fire for doing a photoshoot of herself and her art in the slums to promote her exhibit. She was called out and shamed for using poverty to promote her art. She has since then taken down the photo from her social media account.

Another example of a business that was called out is this high-end resort in Cebu that is famous with local and foreign tourists. They earned the ire of netizens because the owner tried to educate and give his diagnosis, which he got from google, to a parent whose child has special needs over a complaint on an online reservation site. After this, many netizens came to the rescue on behalf of the mother, bashed the owner and suggested boycotting and withdrawing support for the resort, while Groups advocating the welfare of children with special needs also called the resort owner’s attention about the matter. These forced the owner to apologize and resign.

Another business example is that of a cola commercial where a mother and an adopted child were having a conversation. To some, the commercial promotes the negative stereotype of being adopted, so activists called out the company while some netizens canceled the beverage, this forced the company to explain.

These 4 are examples of wokism and cancel culture in the Philippines. I am sure there are others but these 4 made it into mainstream news so I used it for familiarity. We can clearly see here that most reactions are driven by political incorrectness and unrighteous acts. We have not yet reached the level of US wokism- which has a clear left agenda to destroy tradition and truth- as of this writing since Filipinos are more forgiving and tolerant and our Christian values are  firmly ingrained. But if we leave things unguarded, or even unaware that these ideologies enter through media and educational institutions,  we will wake up with values we no longer know.

A more important question is, is cancel culture effective? Results will tell us. Wokism and cancel culture are here and affect businesses and personalities, Wokeism in principle tries to achieve social justice by exposing social problems it sees from the lens of postmodernism and Marxism, and one of the expressions is canceling or boycotting. On the upside, exposing injustices allows public discourse for social change. At times it can also bring down people and personalities and businesses that hide behind their power and money. However, in the process to bring about change, canceling or calling out results in damaged reputation and livelihood, brought by the verdict of the social media court, and missed opportunities for productive discourse. In this view, only one’s anger born out of malice is satisfied by casting stones. Maybe, it is better to step back, listen and find a productive solution.

Bringing Cardinal Virtues Back in Business

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When reading news, we cannot not notice companies, big ones, in scandal. It can be about stock manipulation, bribery, and other unethical practices. On a more positive note, technology made it easier for anyone to start a business creating a lot of competition in the marketplace. We know of big businesses which have been greatly affected by smaller new ones and new businesses rapidly growing overnight. This proves that the business environment today is even more challenging and complex. With such a competitive environment and shifting social values, leaders are pushed to make hard decisions, choosing between the ethical and unethical. Sometimes or most of the time, for the sake of staying afloat, leaders choose profit over what is good. 

If we are to accept and make profiteering over what is ethical our social norm, then I am sure that there will be greater social injustice and society will collapse. What then do I propose? 

We need to cultivate and inculcate the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude which leads to good behavior and right success in business. The cardinal virtues provide a framework for living a virtuous and happy life. They can be traced back from the works of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and believed to be essential for human flourishing.

The virtue of prudence is about making wise decisions. Prudence involves the ability to identify what is sound, relevant, and reliable information, and to make ethical decisions based on that information. In other words, prudence is the ability to make informed decisions that can help a company achieve its goals. By being prudent or thinking through the possible paths to final decision, leaders and entrepreneurs can ensure that they are considering many perspectives, and avoiding expensive mistakes. If this fast-food chain was a little more prudent in their action of not suddenly shifting to a new tech system, they would have avoided a problem in their supply chain which led them to having no inventory of their most famous item in their stores.

The virtue of justice is another virtue that is important in the business world. Justice involves treating others fairly and equitably, and giving each person what he or she is due. In a business context, this can mean ensuring that employees are paid a fair wage, that customers are treated with respect and honesty, and that vendors and suppliers are paid promptly and fairly. Practicing justice in business creates a culture of trust and respect, which can lead to long-term success. I personally have been treated unfairly by a company who hired our services. After the company was bought out, we were never paid even by the new owner. Some employees did not even receive their salary as of this writing. The company may be doing okay financially but that is not just the measure of success.

The virtue of fortitude is also essential in business. Fortitude involves the ability to persevere in the face of difficulty and to overcome obstacles. Fortitude in other words is grit and resilience. In the competitive world of business, fortitude in leaders is key to achieving success. Whether it’s coming back from a failed project or persisting through a challenging business environment, those who practice fortitude are better able to weather the highs and lows of business and come out on top. Ask successful business owners and they will tell you that along the way, they have experienced multiple failures before achieving success, this demonstrates fortitude.

Lastly, the virtue of temperance. Temperance involves the ability to exercise self-control and moderation in action, even in the face of temptation or pressure. In business, this can mean avoiding the lure of excessive profit or making shortcuts to achieve profitability. By exercising temperance, business leaders can ensure that their decisions and actions are aligned with their personal values and the values of the company. One example of temperance in practice is this real estate company that leaves ample green space rather than putting more buildings for the sake of profit.

By cultivating cardinal virtues, business leaders can have a guide that will point them in the right direction in this complex and competitive environment that will eventually lead them to long term success while keeping their values in place.