I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes money, and every other good, public as well as private.
When I titled this book The Moral Advantage, I was aware that the phrase could sound both naive and crass, not an appealing combination. On the naive-sounding side, am I really claiming that morality in business is a way of advancing one’s own interests, of actually creating an advantage for oneself? If I am making such a claim in earnest, this idea surely seems a bit clueless in a world where CEOs make off with vast fortunes by inflating their pay, hanging employees out to dry, and deceiving the public: clearly you don’t need to be moral to make a lot of money. On the crass-sounding side, am I promoting the idea that morality should be viewed merely as a means to advance our own interests?
My answer to the first question is yes, I am claiming that morality is the best pathway to business success, the surest means of promoting both one’s own career interests and the interests of those with whom one does business. But I am referring to a kind of success that is broader and more satisfying than monetary gain alone— although financial success is certainly included in the vision that I have in mind.
My answer to the second question is no, I am not claiming that morality’s main purpose is to promote one’s narrow self-interests. Moral conduct is an end in itself, not reducible to any reward that it might or might not bring. In business, if there is a choice between doing the right thing and making a profit, the moral choice must be to do the right thing. And such choices do arise in business, as in any other area of life. Yet even in such cases, the moral choice has a way of yielding benefits in the end. Some of these benefits are personal: the sense of satisfaction that one gets from pride in good work, the sense of integrity that one gets from a commitment to high standards and noble purposes. Such personal benefits are rewarding in themselves, and they also contribute to long-term career success by bolstering one’s inspiration and motivation. People who believe in their work feel good about it, and when they feel this way, they are likely to acquire greater energy, talent, imagination, and staying power.
In this chapter, I show the many distinct ways that morality can contribute to business success. Some of these ways are familiar (following ethical codes, for example), whereas others (such as unleashing the powers of moral imagination) have seldom been described, at least in a systematic manner. My aim here is to develop a framework of business morality that will give readers a new understanding of how morality actually works in building a rewarding career.