(Not many people know this but…) I attend a bible class on Tuesday mornings. Today I had just heard of Bob Diamond’s resignation from his position as CEO of Barclays when I was asked to open my bible at Daniel, Chapter 5. Most of you will know the phrase ‘the writing is on the wall’ but I, for one, did not know that this phrase comes directly from the story of King Belshazzar’s feast recounted in this chapter. As I read the story the parallels to today’s corporate crises hit me between the eyes.
Briefly, the King holds a drunken feast at which he commits the sacrilege of using the sacred vessels pillaged from the temple in Jerusalem. In the midst of the feast a disembodied hand appears and starts writing mysterious words on the wall – ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin’. None of the King’s advisors can interpret the words so the prophet Daniel is summoned to explain their meaning.
From a coaching perspective this is where the story gets interesting since the King says to Daniel ‘If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple, have a gold chain placed round your neck and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom’. Daniel answers the King ‘You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else (FACTS coaching model principle – letting go of status, expertise and outcomes). Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the King and let him know what it means (FACTS coaching model principle – speak you truth, face the facts)’.
Daniel then continues in a measured, non-judgmental style recounting some plain truths to the King and finally interpreting the words ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin’ as ‘Mene : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Parsin : Your kingdom is divided and will be given to the Medes and Persians’. That night the King is slain as the Medes ransack the city.
How similar is this to modern day corporate ‘Kings’ like Bob Diamond who oversee acts such as the fixing of the libor inter-bank lending rate? For Bob Diamond it turns out that this week the writing has been on the wall; his reign has been brought abruptly to an end, he has been weighed on the scales and found wanting and, most probably, the kingdom of the banks will be divided up in the coming years.
Maybe the writing is on the wall for a whole epoch of corporate leadership? Could the current cycle of scandals herald that a far deeper cycle of change is afoot? ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin’. Who in the modern world will interpret the writing on the wall and have the courage to speak the truth and face the FACTS? Who are the modern day Daniels in the corporate sector? Non Executive Directors? Journalists? Regulators? Family? Friends? Executive coaches? You? Me?