Bernardo M. Villegas
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Virtues of A Selfless Manager

           In the book Management Ethics by Dr. Domenec Mele of the IESE Business School, human virtues of the manager are placed at the core of good management in any organization, whether a business enterprise or not.  In addition to those on top of business organizations, managers of public institutions, NGOs, educational centers, etc. have to cultivate certain virtues if they want to practice good management.  As I mentioned in a previous column, the most important of these virtues is practical wisdom or prudence, which “aids practical rationality in identifying the right thing to do in each situation, and resolving conflict between spontaneous motivations and also in providing rational motivations.”  Considering that choices among alternative ways of allocating resources are at the core of business decision making, this virtue which aids in resolving conflict between spontaneous motivations should deserve its title of “queen of the moral virtues.”

          Among the other virtues I would rank very high in assessing the moral competencies of a manager is what we can call selflessness.  As Dr. Mele wrote in Management Ethics, the human being has a tendency to keep to oneself but also to share with others what one possesses (thoughts, feelings and material possessions).  Moral competencies of “relationalibility” regulate these tendencies, strengthening character to avoid acting with egoism, that is, with self-interest disrespectful to other people’s right, and helping one to act with respect, care and intelligent love towards others.  It also helps us to share our resources and talents with others in a reasonable way.

          The very first manifestation of the willingness to serve is to live the virtue of justice, which is generally defined as the perpetual and constant will to render to each his or her right.  A manager is just when he or she has the stable disposition to respect the rights of others in both intention and in action, not from time to time but always.  The manager must act with fairness in carrying out the distribution of rewards with equity, without bias, when the task is required.  Justice is the minimum required in dealing with people and must never be suppressed.  A leader who is unjust can never be a good leader.

          Next to justice, there is the habit of always telling the truth or the virtue of honesty.  An honest manager generates credibility and trust, indispensable in the relations among the stakeholders of a business.  As Dr. Mele writes;  “A manager who is truthful, clear, frank and sincere in communication attracts, while the opposing attitudes such as duplicity, dissimulation and hypocrisy tend to provoke rejection…Truthfulness is central in honesty, but truthfulness is more than this. Truthfulness is love for the truth…One especially pertinent aspect of truthfulness is acting with transparency by providing the relevant information to which each (person or group) has a right. “    Such information will differ according to the needs of each stakeholder, whether customer, rank-and-file worker, management, funds provider, the immediate community in which the business operates and the public at large represented by the State.

          Selflessness as opposed to egoism also leads to the virtue of loyalty, which is willingness to commit oneself to a good cause and persevere over time with such a commitment.  It means honoring one’s own word, but only, of course, if the word is given with regard to something good.  The ‘loyalty” of the Mafia is perverse.  Loyalty has to be tempered by the virtue of prudence.  It cannot be irrational or blind enthusiasm or obedience.  Neither can be it be purely mercenary exclusively tied up to material gain and not to the common good of the organization.  Leaders who are loyal contribute to heightened cohesion and cooperation within the firm.

          A compassionate leader shows selflessness by paying attention to the real needs of his followers.  Compassion makes one capable of knowing the distress of others and doing something to relieve it. Again, quoting Dr. Mele, “Compassionate managers can deal with ‘toxic emotions’, including indignation, frustration and dissatisfaction in corporate life…Understanding people’s failures is also an important aspect of compassion, but compassion is not sentimentalism.  Thus, compassion, along with a sense of justice, prevents passivity or looking the other way when one is aware of some wrongdoing on the part of a collaborator or subordinate.  He or she should be warned or corrected whenever necessary with tact, in positive terms and by providing guidance and support.”  This point is especially important in the typical Filipino organization in which the Christian duty of “fraternal correction” is hardly practised.

          Then there is kindness which includes virtues such as meekness, gentleness, affability and good manners, being approachable, easy and pleasant to speak to.  There should also be the ingredient of humor and fun, avoiding excessive stiffness and formality.  The much vaunted Filipino delicadeza or calidad humana, promoted by former Chilean Ambassador to the Philippines, Roberto Mayorga, also enhances the authority of the manager or leader, being opposed to sterile violence and to an angry mood.  Also, very much appreciated in Philippine culture is “utang na loob” or gratitude.  The word “thanks” should come easily to the lips of a leader as well as “sorry”, if an error or offence has been committed.  A leader should also be quick to forgive those who have done wrong, being able to give people a second chance and avoiding a vengeful spirit or harboring grudges.  Those who are quick to forgive are in a good position to find effective reconciliation. 

          A selfless leader is also exemplary in his constant willingness to contribute to the common good of a particular community, including the business firm with its stakeholders, a nation or even the global community.   This spirit of solidarity, which can also be called citizenship behavior, is a virtue in which a leader should be exemplary.  He must be perceived to always take into account the common good in his individual actions or decisions.  This is farthest from the image of a businessman whose only concern is the maximization of the profit of the firm.  The common good refers to both people and planet.  Especially in response to the recent social encyclical of Pope Francis entitled “Laudato Si or Concern for our Common Home,” the common good includes an attitude of stewardship toward the physical environment. Especially in the Christian faith, it is believed that God has entrusted creation to the human being and man has to respect the integrity of creation. 

            It is clear that the selfless manager is sincerely concerned with the welfare of his people as he pursues reasonable profit to make his organization sustainable, even if  he runs a not-for-profit outfit.  In addition to these two P’s (people and profit), he must add a third one:   planet.   In the words of Dr. Mele:  “It is not virtuous to either hold a despotic dominion over nature nor to dilute  humans into the ecological systems as just one more species, without considering the human condition, rational and free, and human dignity.  What may be recognizable as virtuous behavior is an attitude of stewardship toward the environment.  Stewardship is a careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.  In this context, it refers to stewardship of natural resources.”  The social encyclical Laudato Si of Pope Francis puts it succinctly and forcefully: “Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.”  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.