Mayor of London Boris Johnson has a strange take on moral values. Like the unlamented but memorable Gordon Gecko, Johnson declares greed is good.
In a dubious throwback to the Margaret Thatcher era, he insists “some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses”.
This is surely a leader trying hard to set a tone. 1 And whether you agree with him or not, and I don’t, this is a leader who has certainly made an impact, using his values.
As Johnson shows clearly, when a leader gives voice to values these may not necessarily be good ones. They may not be values that appeal to most people.
“What is moral?” Johnson might just as well have asked. If we’re not alert to our own values then we’ll be more likely to accept his distorted view of the world.
Here is a leader driven by raw ambition and selfishness. He is attempting to dictate the kind of world in which people live–but the rest of us don’t have to go along with it.
Ethical leaders avoid dictating-as Johnson is failing to do–about how to behave. Instead they help people understand their own values. This allows them to make up their own minds about what to do, and how to behave. This proves extremely important within an organisation. Employees who understand their own values are better equipped to make the right decisions on behalf the organisation.
Helping employees give voice to values is therefore an important business leadership role. Ways to do this include promoting workshops, team meetings, discussion sessions, simulations, and practice rehearsals. These can all contribute to a company culture where employees feel confident to make ethical choices.
In support of this kind of development is Ethics Unwrapped, an innovative series of 33 videos from the University of Texas. Though mainly aimed at those teaching ethics it could be useful to any company wanting to help employees grow in confidence in handling ethical choices. 2
In particular, an amusing video in the series: Giving Voice to Values presents the basic issue facing all thoughtful business leaders—avoiding a “do this”, “don’t’ do that” kind of culture.
Another video explains there is a lot of common ground between people. So for example, we know from research that values such as honesty, fairness, respect, and compassion resonate and mean a great deal to vast numbers of people.
Research also confirms the more unequal a society is the more unhappy people are in it. For example the most recent study has found found life satisfaction peaks at a certain point of income. After that we may get richer yet be less contented.
Pushing for more greed and inequality is not only pursuing unpleasant values. It is hardly adding to the world in any positive way.
Whatever the atavistic assertions of a notoriously ambitious mayor of London, greed does not have a lot to recommend it.
1 N. Watt, Boris Johnson invokes Thatcher Spirit, The Guardian, Wednesday 27 November
2 Ethics Unwrapped, produced by the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, a free series available online