Using the Four Moral Dimensions to Build a Rewarding Career
In our interviews with top business leaders, we found frequent mention of all four dimensions of business morality. The men and women differed in which of these aspects they personally emphasized, but there was virtually no disagreement about their importance. In the following four chapters, I illustrate how each dimension is used in a real business life, quoting some of the business leaders as they offer details about how they employed their moral convictions in the service of their work. For each chapter, I have selected cases that represent especially relevant examples of the moral dimension discussed therein. But the set of interviews as a whole contains many other cases that I could have used to illustrate the same points, because all of the business leaders in our study expressed commitment to these moral modes.
Approximately two-thirds of the business leaders reported use of generative morality, in the sense of drawing on beliefs and purposes for inspiration. Many talked about how they used their moral imaginations to produce innovative business concepts, and to muster the persistence and commitment needed for sticking with a new idea despite skepticism and the risk of the unknown. Some said they actively train their minds to nurture this kind of moral creativity.
Many interviewees reported relying on religious or spiritual faith to spur creative inspiration and sustain their mental discipline, a characteristic not typically evident among business leaders because they tend to keep their faith private to avoid being perceived as imposing their own religious beliefs on employees. In our study, however, more than 90 percent of the people interviewed expressed a devout spiritual or religious faith of some kind. Few executives try to use their businesses to advocate for a particular religious or spiritual doctrine. Rather, they take their own inspiration and commitments from their faith, and keep it to themselves in their day-to-day business operations.
I first realized the power of generative morality a few years ago when I met with Sir John Templeton, the legendary business leader to whom I have dedicated this book. It was clear to me that Temple- ton’s business accomplishments reflected a deeper sense of purpose, a purpose closely linked to his spiritual beliefs. For him, it was faith that fueled his moral imagination. Connecting the dots, I could see that this had been the primary wellspring of Templeton’s daring and creative path to success.
When Templeton was active in business, he was an investment manager who gained international renown, a vast fortune, and a British knighthood for his distinguished service to the Crown. He was the first investment manager to create a global family of mutual funds. As early as the 1930s, before the advent of the personal computer or international jet travel, Templeton found economic value in places where few Western investors had thought to look—in Asia, the Middle East, Australia, even remote parts of Africa. The value was there. The Templeton funds grew from a one-room operation over a local police station into a multibillion-dollar corporation. The way that Templeton came up with this concept reveals how business leaders use generative morality as a source of innovative business concepts.
What gave him the vision to explore global investing and the fortitude to gamble in such little-known territories? One answer to this (not the only one, but a key piece of the puzzle) lies in Temple- ton’s commitment to his particular faith. He devoutly believes in the love of all humanity, without discrimination of any sort. As a young man, Templeton first considered becoming a minister, but while in college he decided that his gifts were in financial analysis and that he could best serve God and humanity in this way. (He told me that his only regret is that he did not start his mutual funds earlier “because I would have served many more people.”)
Central to Templeton’s belief is the idea that all people are “only the tiniest part of God.” Therefore, “each of us should try to love every human being without any exceptions, and not just a little bit, but unlimited love for every human being with absolutely no exceptions.” Separating people by tribe, race, club, or nation is “probably not as healthy” as thinking of all humanity as one. Templeton is not a fan of narrow, overly chauvinistic sentiments that divide people. His purpose of celebrating the infinite worth of all people, and his belief in the essential unity of humanity, led him directly to the notion of global mutual finds. Although this notion has become commonplace in the financial world by now, it was radical and untested when Templeton first introduced it. Who, after all, could imagine that companies in strange, faraway places might be worth investing in? But the risks that he took on his faith’s behalf were richly rewarded.
Templeton never used his companies to proselytize for his particular faith. He did not expect his employees or his customers to join his own church. What he did do was express his vision by founding a truly international, boundary-crossing approach to investing, an approach that seemed risky and audacious at the time but that ultimately proved brilliantly successful. Material success followed from Templeton’s spiritual inspiration in ways that would be hard to trace without knowing his innermost sense of purpose.
A powerful concept lies at the heart of every successful business. In the most spectacular cases, the new business concept—a car in every garage, airplane travel for the masses, a computer on every desk—transforms the way people conduct their lives. How do businessmen and -women come up with powerful new ideas? Where do they get the nerve to commit themselves to an unproven idea when people who seem to know better say that they are crazy? Where does the spirit of innovation come from, and the mettle required to venture down a new road? Templeton gave me my first inkling of where successful businesspeople find this kind of inspiration and strength. The other business leaders whom I interviewed filled in the rest of the story. In Chapter 3, I will present some further examples of the moral imagination at work.
Once a concept is born out of an inspiring sense of purpose, it must be communicated to those necessary to make the concept a reality: partners and investors, coworkers and employees, clients and customers. The communication must keep the company focused on the concept and see that it is executed with conviction. Such communication rests on the trust and respect of all those who must buy into the concept. Building trusting relationships among disparate groups of people is a serious accomplishment in itself, because each group—whether partners, employees, investors, or customers—has its own special interests at stake. The only way to get all of these people to trust what a leader is saying is to gain a reputation for decency and honesty in one’s dealings with others.
Among the business leaders we interviewed, we found that many look to the age-old principle of the Golden Rule as their way to ensure that their behavior conforms to such standards as decency and honesty. At the heart of the Golden Rule is empathy, the sense that everyone shares in one another’s joys and pains and therefore that everyone must care about the conditions in which others find themselves. In our study, almost all of the men and women expressed an active commitment to building trusting relationships through empathic understanding and other principles consistent with the Golden Rule. Without prompting, more than one-fourth invoked the Golden Rule itself to explain how they manage relations with partners, clients, and employees.
Closely tied to empathy is the capacity to take the perspective of the other, to “step inside another person’s shoes.” This capacity can be cultivated to great effect in one’s business relationships. In Chapter 4, I will present examples of how businesspeople employ empathy, perspective-taking, and the Golden Rule to cultivate the productive and trusting relations that they must build with colleagues, employees, and customers.
What applies within companies also applies among companies. In addition to fostering trusting communication within their own companies, business leaders today say that they must establish good collaborative relations across organizations, even in cases where those organizations have a fundamentally competitive relationship with one another. Some interviewees in the high-tech corridors of Silicon Valley and Boston, for example, called this “co-opetition,” although others outside of those regions spurn this term as New Age jargon. Yet by whatever name this trend is called, most try to practice it, because they believe that in today’s ever-shifting business world, this kind of cross-company teamwork provides a decisive advantage, an advantage that hinges on a leader’s reputation for decent conduct and trustworthiness.
Beyond empathy, stringent ethical conduct—what I have called restrictive morality—is a key element in a reputation for trustworthiness. More than four-fifths of the business leaders in our study placed an extremely high priority on restrictive morality. Their commitment revolved around such values as resistance to corruption and refusal to cut corners in truthfulness, fairness, and respect for the law. These values guided their relations with partners, employees, customers, competitors, and society at large. The interviewees reported that these values had enabled them to reject frequent pressures to give (or take) bribes, to put out deceitful public information, to renege on contracts, to manipulate share prices, to cover up defective products, to steal other people’s inventions, to cheat vendors or customers by unfair pricing, or to harm their communities through irresponsible environmental policies—any of which could spell trouble if practiced and then revealed.
This ethical sense also helped these business leaders establish dependable relations with colleagues and competitors. They see this as an urgent challenge in today’s fluid marketplace. Because of globalization, technological innovation, and conglomeration, companies rise and disappear quickly. Jobs are created and lost over- night, and workers move on the instant they spot a new opportunity. What does this mean for working relationships within a company, including the bonds between leader and staff? Are traditional notions such as loyalty still useful, or even viable? Is teamwork possible among people who may become competitors by the time of the next paycheck? The business leaders in our study used ethical principles to create a spirit of cooperation in their intensely competitive environments.
Finally, philanthropic morality is a widely followed path of public service in the business world, as four-fifths of the business leaders in our study subscribed to such a practice. Philanthropy enables business leaders to define relations with the broader community in ways that yield benefits for both the community and the company, especially providing the company with compelling and legitimate public relations material. In certain cases, philanthropy can feed back to a business’s founding mission, thus serving the generative function as well as the community-relations one. For example, a computer company that donates equipment to schools not only aids the worthy cause of education but also expands its future market by enlarging its consumer base and building brand recognition within it.
Although philanthropy rightly occupies an honored place among the four dimensions of business morality, it is not as certain a means to doing good as it may first appear. Believe it or not, simply giving away a bunch of money does not always improve the lot of those who receive it, as many philanthropists discover, to their regret. The same moral qualities that lead to success in business— purpose, insight, empathy, humility, honesty, trustworthiness—are also required for effective philanthropy. For this reason, among many others, philanthropy should never be seen as a sure-fire salvation for a corrupt and ruthless business career. Although careful philanthropy can bring many good things to the world, it is neither redemptive nor certain. Andrew Carnegie once said that it is harder to give money away well than to make it.