Studies have often shown that we overestimate the degree of our moral positions - we tend to think we are more morally aligned than our desires and actions would seem to indicate. This brief article from Big Think looks at how this misalignment gets us into trouble.
In this interview, Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School, argues that "since we are so often convinced that we will "never be led astray," when we actually face a complex moral choice we lack the critical skills necessary to do the right thing." Furthermore, he feels that we err when we assume that someone who has made a mistake is a "bad seed," or is flawed in character - we all make mistakes.
We need to bring more compassion to these situations.
Daniel Honan on May 20, 2011
What's the Big Idea?
Nearly any man can stand adversity, said Lincoln, but "if you want to test a man's character, give him power." America's 16th president certainly knew a lot about that. Consider Lincoln's frustrations with the egomaniacal commander George B. McClellan, who was just one in a long succession of incompetent generals Lincoln ended up firing.
Numerous bankers, politicians, athletes and celebrities have proven Lincoln true, time and again. And yet, that does not necessarily make all of these people bad, per se, argues Nitin Nohria in his interview with Big Think.
Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, is not looking to create excuses for mistakes or immoral actions. Instead, Nohria is trying to get us to think beyond the "knee-jerk reaction" of simply labeling a person good or evil, as if a character flaw is the only thing that motivates us to do bad things, or that the only kind of person capable of moral failure is simply a "bad seed."
Nohria argues that overconfidence in our own moral capacity is what really gets us into trouble. In other words, since we are so often convinced that we will "never be led astray," when we actually face a complex moral choice we lack the critical skills necessary to do the right thing.
What's the significance?
As dean of Harvard Business School, the idea of teaching these skills is of great importance for Nohria. In fact, Nohria has promoted an MBA oath that pledges socially responsible leadership. Like the Hippocratic Oath in medicine, the MBA oath is a "professional credo for MBA graduates." The oath has been embraced globally and has been signed by over 5,000 students.
If we are to expect the next generation of business leaders--not to mention the future leaders in all fields--to truly honor such a commitment, students must be given the tools to properly evaluate the situations that challenge their moral judgment. Then, in Lincoln's words, the better angels of our nature might prevail.