How Conscientious Leadership is the Secret Sauce of Benefit Corporations

Photo by  Greg Rakozy

Photo by Greg Rakozy

It’s easy to banter about the “Triple Bottom Line.” And in today’s world it’s trendy to state one stands for People, Planet and Profit.

But the proof is in the pudding. Or to use another cliché…do these companies truly practice what they preach?

We believe it’s easy if at your heart you truly believe in these principles. It’s more than just words. It’s about inherent values that run deep and translate into the behaviors. Attitudes and behaviors that are embodied in Benefit Corporations.  

It’s a mindset we call Conscientious Leadership.

It’s a way of thinking – that promises a more authentic, honest and transparent business culture that delivers both profits and healthy, green communities.

Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher and pioneer of political economy, explained in his book, The Wealth of Nations,” the two levels of corporate virtue. “There is a lower base one, for commercial self- interest, and a second level that practices the virtues of benevolence, generosity, compassion, and kindness”. 

These early writings of Smith, articulated the roots of “Conscientious Leadership” which has seen a resurgence with new passion through the Benefit Corporation movement emerging across the country. 

Yet, these are only words.  The real question concerns the specific behaviors of conscientious leaders who are the driving force behind Benefit Corporations.

In 2000, Paul Ray, PhD and sherry Ruth Anderson, PhD authored a landmark book, “The Cultural Creatives.” Their research documented the compelling account of a “quiet revolution of ethical values“– individuals and business leaders of all ages, who have a different view of the world and corporate America. The key attributes are remarkably like the characteristic of leaders of Benefit Corporations. They include:

1.       Authenticity – actions that are consistent with beliefs and what is said

2.       Practical Idealism – personal experience with the value and importance of community good and willing to “walk the talk”

3.       Empathy – the need for respect and support for others; fostering a caring quality among relationships, be they customers, vendors, employees or partners. (today we call that emotional intelligence)

4.       Altruism and Self-Actualization – a well-developed social conscience, that is “other driven”

5.       Globalism and Ecology - Seeing the bigger picture and the broader systems within a social, political and environmental context

The authors speak of a new moral compass, needed in our communities and our businesses that rejects greed, status, inequalities, “me first,” excessive materialism, and intolerance. It is a shift in priorities that focuses on the spirit and dignity of people, workers, leaders and the environment.  

In sum: Conscientious Leadership!

These leaders are beacons of hope thriving in our communities, making a difference while at the same time making a profit. We are proud to know some of them, interviewed for our book, “Putting Soul Into Business: How the Benefit Corporation is Transforming American Business for Good.” 

A shining example is seen at Carina’s Bakery, located in Beaverton, Oregon. All of their products are vegan and soy-free. The Bakery recently became an Oregon Benefit Company and Carina Comer, the owner, demonstrates clearly the principles of Conscientious Leadership. Visually impaired from an illness earlier in her life, Carina employs people with disabilities, mentoring and helping them develop a passion for baking and providing them with an outlet for sharing their ideas with the world. She does this while growing a successful business.

These small business leaders and entrepreneurs, like Corina, are the secret sauce behind Benefit Corporations --- creating day in and day out healthy and vibrant communities for ALL.




MaryAnne Harmer