Leo Durocher, the baseball legend, made famous the statement, “Nice guys finish last.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Incompetent people finish last. Not only can nice people finish first, but more importantly, they finish better. There is ample evidence that you can do well by doing right. Research has shown that when leaders consistently act in alignment with their principles and values, they produce high performance. This consistent performance includes gross sales, profits, talent retention, business reputation, customer satisfaction, and that intangible sense of well-being.
Nearly everyone has this inborn talent to be moral. Everybody, barring brain injury or the small percentage of our population that are psychopaths or sociopaths, know right from wrong. It’s moral intelligence that gives our life meaningful purpose. Without moral intelligence we would not know why we do what we do. We would not know why our existence even made any difference. So it makes sense that the moral intelligence which informs our values would also be essential in the business world.
Cognitive intelligence (IQ) and technical intelligence are referred to as threshold competencies. You don’t get in the door without them. They are essential, but not sufficient. The differentiators in one’s leadership effectiveness are emotional intelligence and moral intelligence. Much has been written over the last decade about emotional intelligence.
We also have moral intelligence. Overtime we have the ability to learn and develop moral competence. To use a computer metaphor, we were born with the hardware, but moral hard-wiring is not enough. In addition, we need moral software. Our moral hardware needs programming.
It’s the same with language. We were born not being able to speak a word, but the hardwiring was there. Our caregivers helped program the hardware. We now speak at least one language fluently. Yet we could not have done this without the intelligence—the inborn capacity to communicate. We didn’t come from the womb reciting Hamlet.
Morality is very similar. We would not be able to learn right from wrong unless we were equipped at the hard drive level to both acquire and act on a moral compass. The point—there are no moral agnostics. Barring mental or psychological deficiencies, studies have confirmed that there are universal principles common to every culture that delineate right from wrong—without exception. Cultural values might differ, but those values are informed by the same principles. People in China put high value on respect for elders, and people in the U.S. put high value on independence, but both groups—in principle–believe it’s wrong to steal, kill, cheat, and lie. Even though cultures and religions differ at the core level, all of them are guided by the common principle of reciprocity—Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
No one is raised in a moral vacuum. The moral intelligence is there. However, the competencies are in process. Such knowledge of our nature must be factored in when organizations look at the ethical behavior of their constituents.
What is the best way to build a values-based organization? How can we encourage and cultivate ethically driven cultures? Some have suggested a more stringent, intrusive, governmental supervision—commonly referred to as the ethic of compliance. Compliance is not bad. We need standards. The problem is that this approach doesn’t tap into the core of who we are as human beings. We are hard wired to want to do the right thing.
Excessive regulations can immobilize a work force, tying the hands of those we expect to perform at a high level. Company board directors who fear being sued leave, resulting in the loss of the wisdom of some of their best. It’s like shooting mice with an AK47 – you may hit your target, but you will destroy the whole room in the process. Even worse, lots of dead mice do not guarantee that the mice won’t return again in numbers.
There is such a thing as moral stupidity. It’s hard to quantify the market advantages of moral intelligence. However, the cost of moral ignorance is strongly documented. More than 70 percent of consumers have punished companies they view as unethical. Leaders must recognize that we all have a moral positioning system that guides us in our life’s journey. You can be a talented driver with a great car, but when you don’t have a map and it’s dark you need that GPS. When your global positioning system is working, you never get lost– even in the midst of difficult situations. In the same way, your moral intelligence will allow you to maximize all your talent and training—those threshold competencies—to achieve what’s most important to you, both on the job and in life.
How important is moral intelligence? How important is eating, drinking, breathing, exercising? Developing your moral intelligence into competencies is every bit as critical to your health and happiness as these other activities.
It’s also what elevates a good organization to a great organization.