Symbiosis – Business and Community

There exists between businesses and the communities in which they work a natural symbiotic relationship. A relationship which, if understood and nurtured, will not only strengthen a community but also significantly improve a business’s performance and capital value. Regretfully, most business leaders do not understand the true nature of this relationship.


Active Knowledge Question:

How would you describe the connection between your business and the community in which it lives?


Thinking that your business exists principally to profit is the weakest form of competitiveness you could possibly instil in your business. It will result in lower profits than otherwise possible.


A Symbiotic Relationship

There exists a symbiotic relationship between businesses and the communities in which they exist.

A well-run and managed business provide fulfilling employment to the community in which it exists. That community – being well remunerated and provided with vocations that meet their needs as humans – can support those businesses to grow and become more successful. Not just by buying their goods and services but by applying their combined talents and efforts to maximum effect in making that business competitive.

Introduce profit-first as a motive, and then wages are seen as a cost to be reduced, self-interest, short-termism, and politics are suddenly prime, and the connection between the business and the community is broken. The business seeks to maximise its profit for its shareholders, and the community is only a potential source of workers and customers in the pursuit of profit. The community sees the business’s agenda and responds in kind.

Many business leaders would see that the health, welfare, happiness and well-being of a local community is principally the responsibility of others, including the government, to which they pay taxes. Still, there is a much more complex relationship between businesses and communities.

Of course, it is not simply a responsibility of businesses to support communities, but of communities to support their businesses.

Imagine the difference between a happy, healthy and contented community and one which is angry, divided and frustrated. Which would you prefer to be connected with?

Strategically, a symbiotic relationship does exist and should be a cornerstone of the long-term success of any business. However, a profit-first motive by businesses, and the acceptance of wealth as a key metric of personal success, undermines the integrity and importance of this relationship.

Nurturing this symbiotic relationship is far more fundamental than responding to activists’ voices or donating monies to various community causes. It provides for the well-being of the community of people who work for you, the communities in which you operate and those who are your customers. It is placing their needs and well-being ahead of short-term profit and self-interest.

It starts with establishing the right cornerstone as to why your business exists, understanding the real core of the competitive strength of your business and recognising how making your communities your prime importance will underpin your business’s enduring viability and capital value. And all of that requires worthy leadership to be seeded and sustained.


Purpose is misunderstood by many business leaders and is often interchanged with vision, mission and the profit motive.

It is, however, one of the most powerful tools that a business leader can use to muster commitment, passion and the focus of all the people working within and with their business.

If crafted correctly, it is also the window through which endless opportunities for growth may be discovered.

Purpose is the cornerstone and reference point for the existence of your business. Real competitive strength lies in that purpose, and everything else builds upon it. Purpose reveals opportunities, ensures alignment, and a compounding of effort. Purpose is founded in meeting customer needs. Profit is not a purpose

A purpose founded in customer need is the most powerful as it creates a tangible meaning to your business’s existence and, therefore, prompts everyone to search out new opportunities.

Purpose, well framed and conceived, allows your business to connect with the real needs of your customers. It allows you to see the value that they experience in using your product. It, therefore, allows you to see into the future and to understand how all the changes that are occurring in our world will impact the experience of that need.

It allows you to grow from a core purpose and remain connected with your customers. It allows you to continually enhance the value you deliver and to see new opportunities before your customers and the market.

A purpose founded in customer need allows all those working within and with your business to take pride in their contributions. It seeds a motive of competing against yourself to deliver ever-increasing customer value. And through this purpose:

  • Your business outcompetes all others in their marketplace.
  • Delivers increasing value into your customer needs.
  • Builds vocations for all those working with you and through such seeds well-being into the community.

Core Competitiveness

Your business is nothing more than the sum of all the people who work within and with it. Its competitive success is derived from the combined strength of its people. Engage with them well, and your business will be successful. But fail to build trust and engagement, and your business will never achieve its potential.

In today’s marketplace, when we refer to employees, you should be including everyone who works with or within your business. It is likely a wide and diverse community with many different backgrounds, cultures, needs, and working relationships.

The way we characterise this relationship should be seen as one of creating and building connections rather than contracting with someone to ‘work’.

The first questions that you must succinctly answer are:

  • Are your ‘employees’ a cost or the most important source of competitiveness in your business?
  • Are they a cost to be managed and minimised to maximise profit, or the most valuable asset you have and must be nurtured to yield their greatest talent and effort?

I do not believe you can effectively say ‘both’ a ‘source’ and a ‘cost’ because each answer lies at different ends of the spectrum.

Many leadership teams today fail because they say employees are a valuable asset but in every way deal with them as a cost centre to be minimised. That approach simply doesn’t work, and the mediocre performance of many businesses is a result of this conflicted approach. It is a result of the profit-first motive that permeates many businesses.

Leaders often think of their competitive strength in a tangible context. That their strength lies in the physical location of their stores, or the machinery that they have designed, or the products they have developed, or the distribution rights they hold etc. Of course, today, we also speak about the brand, platforms, and communities that a business may have established, created or built, which gives them a position of dominance in their respective markets. As well as the data these positions allow them to mine.

These are assets that can be readily owned, controlled, valued and sold. But they are not the source of competitive strength in your business, and their value is superficial at best.

Without the human element in creating, sustaining, and evolving your business’s competitiveness, there would be no business. Your business is only competitive because of the people who work within and with it and the talent and effort they bring to bear on it.

Your employees represent the core of your competitiveness, and there is a symbiotic relationship that exists that must be nurtured between leadership and the employees if that competitiveness is to grow.

This is a partnership dependent upon trust. Trust for today and tomorrow. An enduring trust – not trust for convenience. Any business premised upon a profit-first motive is doomed to breach that trust, as ultimately, they can only see employees as a cost centre to be controlled and minimised.

A business that sees its employees as the core of its competitiveness fundamentally changes how it engages with them and the relationship it builds. The building of this relationship requires worthy leadership.

Once you see your business and its competitiveness as ‘people’, the entire way you approach your business changes. You no longer look at charts and numbers but begin to view your business as a person. You realise that the future success of your business depends on being able to muster the combined talent and effort of everyone.

The competitive strength of your business becomes dependent on the relationships you build. The relationships that are built through your leadership team with your employees.

Worthy Leadership

Placing communities first and accepting that greater profits and increasing capital value will be only some of the outcomes of that catalyst requires worthy leaders. And our current business practices produce few worthy leaders.

A worthy leader is not determined by their technical competencies but by their personal strengths and weaknesses. It starts with humility and gratitude and grows out from this core.

It is the quality of character that businesses must seek in their leaders. The quality of character will determine the strength of harmony and competitiveness. In addition to humility and an attitude of gratitude, there are strengths in character that should be sought and weaknesses that should be avoided at all costs.

The strengths to seek in a leader are:

  • Courage to act and take risks to enable the business to achieve its goals.
  • Discipline to enforce rules within the business in pursuit of purpose, vision, and culture.
  • Sincerity and humanity so that everyone in the business knows that you are authentic, committed to the purpose and vision of the business and that you will support and reward them for their efforts and understand their needs as people.
  • Wisdom to enable you to quickly recognise circumstances in the business environment and lead necessary change expediently.

Leaders who exhibit the following weaknesses should be avoided:

  • Cowardice will only lead to lost opportunities. A leader scared of failure cannot lead a business through change.
  • False pride is readily manipulated by a competitor and reflects those who will quickly place their well-being, image, and feelings above that of the business.
  • Impulsiveness can be provoked into a rage, negates wisdom, and reflects someone who can be easily exploited and led.
  • Recklessness will only destroy a business and is often found in bravado and overconfidence. Courage must be moderated by wisdom.
  • Weak compassion leads to a relaxing of the need for strict conduct and compliance with purpose, vision, and culture and a weakening of competitiveness.

A leader’s prime responsibility is to their community – employees, customers and the community in which they operate – and it is against this relationship that the measures of trust, loyalty, and the like are made.

This is why character is so important in leadership and far more important than qualifications and experience.

In worthy leaders, there is no place for self-interest and a motive to bring the full potential of every person in the business to the forefront in meeting the needs of its community is vital.


Businesses live and thrive in communities that support them. As a core purpose and activity, businesses must engage, nurture and invest in their communities. Not at a superficial level but recognising that it is through this relationship that they exist. A relationship not to be taken for granted nor seen merely as a means to more profit. Grow and strengthen this symbiotic relationship, grow the well-being of the community, and the business will be rewarded more than they ever thought possible.


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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel