I’ve been talking about the morality and ethics of being a corporate executive and manager for quite a few years, and have blogged about it on my different sites more than once too (most recently addressing the topic office romances). So when I heard about the upcoming book Moral Intelligence: Enhancing Business Performance and Leadership Success I promptly called Wharton Business Press and arranged for a review copy.
Here’s the good news: this is a really good book! The authors have done an admirable job of discussing contemporary executive moral lapses (the book starts with George Kline, a VC convicted of insider trading and fined $5.25 million by the courts, for example) without getting righteous or preachy.
The main thing I didn’t like about the book, frankly, is that the authors felt the need to identify yet another type of intelligence. First we had IQ, the ostensibly objective intelligence quotient, then emotional intelligence, and now we have to worry about moral intelligence? Next we’ll be measuring empathy, as suggested in Blade Runner.
I’ll let the authors explain though. Here’s their definition:
Moral intelligence is “the mental capacity to determine how universal human principles should be applied to our values, goals and actions.” In the simplest terms, moral intelligence is the ability to differentiate right from wrong as defined by universal principles. Universal principles are those beliefs about human conduct that are common to all cultures around the world. Thus, we believe they apply to all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious belief, or location on the globe.
You can see the challenge of writing a book of this nature, as summarized in that paragraph. How do you avoid being idealistic? How can you talk about “universal human principles” when we’re all far too aware of the never-ending stream of atrocities and crimes groups impose on each other?
Further, corporations have two masters too: the primary requirement that they make money for their shareholders (which, in a capitalistic system, is job #1) and the requirement that they act in a manner that’s congruent with the values and beliefs of their particular marketplace. For example, the manager of a gift shop in a historic church cannot use the same value system and make the same moral decisions as the manager of a pagan bookstore. Or can they?
Authors Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel address this by talking about the need for leaders to have a strong moral compass, something that I strongly resonate with personally. As they say: “We offer this book as a roadmap for leaders to find and follow their moral compasses… We are convinced that leaders who follow their moral compasses will find that it is the right thing for their business as well. This book is not about telling you what is right or wrong.”
For this book, the authors interviewed an interesting array of leaders, a group that I haven’t seen mentioned in other leadership and business books. Out of the over 100 execs, the names that stand out to me are Paul Clayton, CEO of Jamba Juice, Douglas Baker, CEO of Ecolab, Inc., David Risher, former SVP at Amazon.com and Tom Schinke, Managing VP at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. Interestingly, there was zero overlap with the celebrity executives who are frequently profiled in business publications. Maybe there’s a lesson there, too…
The chapter on Moral Intelligence for Entrepreneurs might be the most interesting in the book. They propose the rather startling position that “Entrepreneurs who want to succeed must master not only their business challenges, but must align their businesses with the principles of integrity, responsibility, compassion and forgiveness.”
I can’t think of a better way to wrap up this review. This is a thoughtful, engaging book on a topic upon which far too few business leaders are mindful. To the detriment of their companies and, most importantly, to our society overall.
Moral Intelligence: Enhancing Business Performance and Leadership Success, by Doug Lennick and Fred Kiel, Wharton Business Press, 2005.