Tomorrow the Catholic Church marks the 884th anniversary of the papal sanctioning of the Knights Templar. On January 13, 1128, Pope Honorius II declared the Templars to be an army of God whose self-imposed mission was to protect Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land during the Crusades.
The Templars received their name from the location of their headquarters at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. In the beginning, mainly due to their rigid rules, the Templars had only nine members. However, thanks to Honorius’ promotional efforts, the order gradually increased its size and influence.
In addition to having noble birth, the Knights were required to take strict vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. While individual knights were not allowed to own property, there was no such restriction on the organization as a whole. As a result, many rich Christians gave gifts of land and other valuables to support the Templars. Before long the Order had grown so extremely wealthy that it provoked the jealousy of both religious and secular powers. Capitulating to negative political pressure, Pope Clement V officially disbanded the once prestigious order in the early 14th century.
Over the centuries, folklore about the Knights Templar included the discovery of the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, and parts of the cross from Christ’s crucifixion. These and other imagined secrets concerning the Order inspired various books and movies including the blockbuster novel and film The Da Vinci Code.
Apart from these intriguing legends and myths, an important business lesson can be gleaned from reviewing the rise and fall of the Templars. Although the primary mission of the organization was honorable, the quality of their strategy led to their ultimate demise. By keeping everything they received and never giving anything away the Templars believed that they would remain strong, sturdy, and self-sufficient. In the end, however, it was this very self-absorbed philosophy that tragically contributed to the Order’s collapse!
Since 1982 the privately owned salad and spaghetti sauce company of Paul Newman has donated over $300 million of its profits to thousands of charities. Newman’s Own is a sterling example of how contemporary business leaders can resist the Templar temptation of bottom-line self-absorption by incorporating philanthropic targets within their company’s mission. If they had included a similar posture of altruism, the Knights Templar could have avoided becoming the victims of a hostile political takeover.
OINOS leaders avoid the lure of the Templar temptation by having their companies properly contribute to the advancement of local public interests. Such business philanthropy, however, is much more than corporate social responsibility and strategic partnerships. The development and implementation of philanthropic business stewardship is an ethic of self-leadership that fosters good will, cultivates competitive edge, and is a critical component of a company’s reputation management.
Business philanthropy should not be simply understood as a marketing mechanism for improving brand value through tax-deductible gifts to the local religious charity or annual Rotary raffle. It is not a cunning organizational tactic to use only when business is booming or when owners hunger for media recognition. On the contrary, donating time, expertise, and resources should be considered an essential component of a sustainable business strategy that provides leaders a way to model the discipline of social stewardship and, more importantly, develop personal psychic meaning! It is proof that the nobility of love will always vanquish the Templar temptation.