How Can Business Play a Constructive Role in Serving Peace and Preventing Conflicts

How Can Business Play a Constructive Role in Serving Peace and Preventing Conflicts

Business for Peace

11 April 2014

Comments from Laurent Ledoux

  1. How can business play a constructive role in serving peace and preventing conflicts?

I first would like to thank you for having asked me to prepare an answer to this question. Not a specialist on this subject, I first searched ideas to answer properly on specialized websites. I found there many interesting ideas but nothing that really spoke to me or that I could make my own.

And then, somehow, I remembered a sentence which I heard almost 30 years ago when I started university and which had struck me. Our Sociology professor, Prof. Karel Baeck, quoted German philosopher Theodor Adorno : “Lack of rigor in the use of words leads unavoidably to fascism”.

This short but insightful sentence gave me the key, not only to build a discourse attempting to answer your questions, but also to reframe what I have been doing for the last decades as a manager and as one of the leader of a small association, Philosophy & Management, which organizes monthly philosophical seminars for managers.

Let me briefly explain.

Adorno’s quote points to the power of words and to the slippery slope of not using them properly. In his books on mass mentality, on the culture industry or the authoritarian personality, Adorno showed how improper use of words can facilitate the emergence of violent movements, domination,… He particularly denounced in this regard the culture industry which reduces our capacity to think critically.

And what do we see today: enterprises, through mass media, play a very important role in shaping culture and that they are very careless in the use of words. They do so through empty slogans and images repeated through publicity, which are more and more targeted to the children and which treats us more and more as children.

Just consider this image (baby brands). Studies shows indeed that today the first words a 3 year old kid remembers are those of particular brands such as Coca-Cola…

It would be too long to describe the ways the links can be made but can for sure debate about it.

This can lead to fascism and the violence and wars that may go with it. The key I guess is to recognize that the culture industry breeds a mass culture, in which mass individuals are typically politically apathetic and intellectually lazy. As Saladdin Said Ahmed writes: a mass individual is the source of fascism and fascism is a phenomenon that needs a mass culture in which to flourish. I believe Hitler and Stalin are good examples of dictators who grasped this perfectly, with the consequences we know.

At this stage, I just would like to point out, based on the studies of my friend, Andres Ginestet, the systemic nature of violence and that in this system, words and concepts that are used are crucial to contain it or to breed it.

In an interesting and stimulating presentation, Ginestet argues that there are at least 7 levers to contain violence. I do believe enterprises can play a big role, through the use of these of these levers, in containing violence and hence active peace.

  1. How do you express your own commitment to peacekeeping?

For the last 14 years, PhiloMa has been organizing monthly philosophy seminars for managers. When I think about it, I guess we invite managers to be more careful about words and concepts and we hereby modestly contribute to peacekeeping.

In order to illustrate it, I would like to take two practical examples.

  • Leadership is, and probably always has been, a big buzzword among managers. It is however sad to see how the concept of leadership is treated in most courses given to managers and would-be managers within corporates or even in University Executive courses. For example, the link with wisdom and ethics is too rarely made (although this is slowly starting to change). But even more importantly, most of these courses convey implicitly the idea that a leader should solve the problems of the group he or she leads. I strongly believe this wrong and induces us collectively to breed and get the wrong leaders. Ronald Heifetz helps us to understand this. According to Heifetz, a leader is one who mobilizes the group to do the adaptive work. In other words, the leader does not come up with solutions, not even with a vision. The problem can only be solved by the group facing it. The leader’s task is to mobilize it to do this work, to continuously give back the work to the people who typically try to avoid it. The leader’s task is to modulate the stress of the group so that it can be be productive and work on its problem. That is why Heifetz considers that people like Hitler are not authentic leaders. Among other things they do not mobilize the group for the adaptive work. Instead they artificially reduce the stress by letting the group believe there are easy and quick solutions to the problem it faces, so that the group can avoid the adaptive work.

  • Enterprises and corporations: to put it bluntly, the Friedmanian Chicago school confuses these two very different words and concepts with disastrous consequences, namely that most managers believe today that the “natural” and only reasonable of an enterprise is to maximize profits for its shareholders. We need to reverse that.
  • Using grounded questions instead of abstract ones: As shows my friend Mark Strom, this is one of the best ways to demonstrate the power of words… for peace.

Laurent’s CV

Laurent Ledoux is the President of the Belgian Ministry for Mobility & Transports. He has a varied experience both in the private and the public sector and specialized in restructuring and modernizing business units and administrations. He was previously

-Head of the Public Banking department and a member of the Executive Committee of Corporate & Public Banking for BNP Paribas Fortis;

-Chief of Staff of a Minister;

-Director for Personal & Administration of the Belgian Ministry of Economic Affairs;

-Partner for Arthur D. Little – a management consulting firm;

-Restructuration Project Manager in Eastern Europe for the European Commission;

-Merger & Acquisitions officer for ING and

-HR Director in Mozambique for Médecins Sans Frontières.

He holds a Master in Economics from the Universities of Namur, Bologna & Madrid and a Post-graduate in Business Administration from Solvay (Belgium).

He lectures on Business Ethics, CSR and Leadership in various universities.

He speaks fluently 7 languages.

He is also

-Director of the association Philosophie & Management,

-President of the association Face2faith and

-one of the founding members of Teach For Belgium.