Bartleby: The grip of vice
Nobody’s perfect. Managers should not forget that
The arc of current management thinking bends towards virtue.
Co-operation is what makes teams purr.
Low-ego empathy is the hallmark of a thoroughly modern boss.
Purpose matters to employees as much as pay; society looms as large as shareholders.
But appealing to people’s better nature, and ignoring their vices, is an incomplete approach.
Nor is being good necessarily great for your own career.
Take a look at the seven capital virtues and the seven deadly sins laid out in Christian tradition.
The virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, patience and humility; the vices are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath and pride.
In aggregate the first set of qualities is the one for managers to emulate.
Neither chaste charity nor lustful gluttony have much to recommend them as a management ethos; but only one is a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Diligence clearly beats sloth.
Greed is out of fashion.
Aiyesha Dey of Harvard Business School and her co-authors have found that excessive materialism on the part of a chief executive can be a warning sign of fraudulent activity and out-of-control risk-taking.
Pride is also increasingly seen as problematic: in a paper from 2018 academics identified narcissistic bosses by the size of their signatures and found a correlation with poor financial outcomes at the firms they ran.
Yet saintliness is rare and sinfulness can be underrated.
Take envy, for example.
By design organisations rely on competition as well as co-operation.
A kind person might well be content to applaud other people for their success.
An envious one will see someone to catch up with.
Psychologists distinguish between malign and benign versions of envy.
In one, people try to close gaps in status by bringing others down.
In the other, they are motivated to improve their own performance.
The recent paper by Danielle Tussing of the University at Buffalo and colleagues discovered a third type of behaviour: people who skipped work or even quit their jobs in order to avoid feelings of envy.
Understanding such emotions is a step towards harnessing them.