When we look to create long term impact, the lasting organizations with the largest influence are those of conscience. Conscience meaning that they are virtuous and hold to their values. When the organization’s values and story have holes, their weakened position will allow others to win out.
This post is a bit different than usual, as it’s inspired by one of my favourite movies, the 2006 movie Kingdom of Heaven Director’s Cut (important to watch the Director’s cut if anyone is interested). [Spoiler Alert] In the movie, we witness the story (a liberal interpretation of history) of Balian de Ibelin.
In this story, he has an opportunity to sacrifice his values as a Christian to keep Jerusalem under Christian control. Yet, he refuses and instead holds to his values — refusing to do a lesser evil for a greater good. For him, it is a kingdom of conscience or nothing. As a result of making the hard choice to stick to his values, he loses control of the city, but the beliefs and values of Christianity are upheld — and, ultimately, that is the greater victory.
I’m not looking to get into the moral philosophy of utilitarian vs absolutism. I hope to highlight an important lesson that can apply to organizations and businesses today.
We have to choose our values wisely and deliberately and act according, we cannot avoid responsibility for the organizations and world that we create. As the character King Baldwin IV says:
“Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, ‘But I was told by others to do thus,’ or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice.”
Now, I am not trying to connect business with anything to do with the soul. Rather, the lesson of this story reminds us of the power of an idea, shows short-term benefits or losses, shows how long-term values are more important, and how we are ultimately responsible for the world we create. In business, this is about earning and maintaining the privilege to keep having your story heard and having an opportunity to provide value to those you seek to serve.
An organization (like a kingdom) of compromise will be short-lived. Because, it is at odds with itself. The idea, that is the story, of the organization is more important than any material advantage. For Balian, Christian values are more important than the city of Jerusalem. For modern organizations, our values (“why” we do what we do) are more important than short-term material advantages.
The main challenge is that we have to communicate our values in a compelling story, also known as: our “why”, our mission, our purpose, our reason to get together and form as a group. That story is told through our product, marketing, sales, support, advertisements, etc. When we sacrifice our organization’s values, that is we act against our organization’s own story, we have a worse story to tell. Importantly, this is relative. It could still be a “good” story, but it’s worse than our previous potential and worse than what a potential competitor’s story could be.
When the story of “why our business exists” begins to have cracks and holes, we will never be as strong as a potential competitor without the cracks and holes. Importantly, if we do make mistakes and cracks show up, we should always look to restore integrity, not just patch the cracks and holes. This is hard work and sometimes requires rebuilding our reputation or story from the ground up. Few can handle such a challenge, it’s better to avoid creating the cracks and holes. Always act inline with your values, restore integrity when you make mistakes, or it’s hardly worth showing up.
There is no guarantee of success with an organization of conscience either. An organization of conscience can fail too. And, that’s ok; we can’t be afraid to fail. The crucible by which we gauge whether we deserve to succeed is only accurate when we create an organization of conscience. If we create an organization of conscience and the organization fails, we can rest assured in knowing that we did all that we could in alignment with our vision and values. Any deviation from this and there will be unrest forever after, as what was tested in the crucible was not what we believed in.
So, in order to succeed long-term and reach our greatest potential, I suggest we choose to create organizations of conscience or nothing.