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November 24, 2014

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.

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  
Maturity

First Concern

Infantile

I Am Here To Get

 

Second Concern

Adolescent

I Give To Get

 

Third Concern

Adult

I Get to Give

 

Fourth Concern

Mature

I Am Here to Give

 

The four concerns is essentially 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 1st Concern. They settled for the intent which is most characteristic of an infant which is a stage of lives before we are even capable of being moral beings.

One of the implications of the 1st concern is that it solicits a malevolent compliance in the other which, organizationally, translates into widespread resistance and a lack of engagement.The first concern is fundamentally exploitative and this exploitative, when turned towards employees manifests a rebellious and resentful attitude in employees. 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 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.

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