Moral Bankruptcy in Leadership

Our colleague and friend, Bob Tucker used to tell a rather shocking story of an experience he had as a senior executive with a top South African bank. The HR director asked the board to consider the bank’s philosophy with regard to their people, and gave them 1 of 4 options to choose from:

1.       We care for you.
2.       We care for you and the contribution you make.
3.       We care for you for the contribution you make.
4.       We care for the contribution you make.

After due consideration and debate, they selected number 4.

The 4 Concerns

It is worrying that the board members were unaware of the amoral nature of their selection. Not for a moment did it occur to them what the implications were of what they were saying. One of the models which we work with in order to understand maturity is called the Four Concerns. With the help of this model we can explicitly highlight these consequences. Very briefly, the Four Concerns work as follows:

The four concerns, essentially, is a model of maturation where the maturity of an individual is understood to be a function of the character of their intent. Of all the levels of maturity that they could have evidenced as a leadership team, they settled for least mature, for the first concern. They settled for the intent, characteristic of an infant, which is a stage of life before we are even capable of being moral beings.

One of the implications of the first concern is that it solicits a malevolent compliance in the other which, organisationally, translates into widespread resistance and a lack of engagement. The first concern is fundamentally exploitative and this exploitation, when turned towards employees, manifests a rebellious and resentful attitude in them. This is in fact exactly what happened to the bank. Within a few months after this fateful meeting the cracks started to appear, and shortly afterward the bank had to undergo major restructuring, costing the jobs of thousands.

One cannot but wonder at the moral quality of the leadership of this establishment when senior people, respectable people, unashamedly confess to an intent which would have been no different from that of Al Capone. It is as if this establishment takes the brightest of our young people, submits them to a business school driven recalibration process that renders them moral amputees, robbed of the very ethical capacity which makes the human being a bit more than an animal.

Value-Driven Behaviour in Leadership

It is axiomatic that the key distinction between maturity and immaturity is the difference between giving and taking. A manager who is principally there to get something from his subordinates is not only fundamentally immature, but he will also cultivate resistance from his people over time. The reason for this is that if one is in a relationship with anyone who is trying to get something out of you, your instinctive reaction is to resist the relationship and to withhold what the other wants from you.

On the other hand, if a leader is here to contribute, he will cultivate people who are here to make a contribution.  The reason for this is that if you experience that someone is in the relationship in order to give something to you then your instinctive reaction is to please that person. This means that successful leaders are experienced as people who are there to give something to their following, and not just to get something from them.

This quality of being here to serve does not mean that the person should always be sweet and kind, it means that their behaviour should be appropriate. In other words, giving does not mean being nice, it means being appropriate. The surgeon may work very hard to save the patient and, in the process, cause the patient the most nightmarish pain. This does not negate the fact that the surgery is done in the patient’s interest. In other words, being here to give means acting consistently with the right thing to do in any given situation, rather than that which is pleasant.

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