Morals, Responsibilities, Wisdom, and Character-Building in Management: Critical Writing

Subject: Business Ethics
Pages: 7
Words: 1999
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: PhD

Literature Synthesis

The presented literature synthesis is devoted to multiple issues and challenges that are related to morals, wisdom, and associated concepts as applied to business ethics. It is aimed at considering the tensions that are linked to the phenomenon of business ethics as well as the means for their resolution. It is concluded that modern business ethics theory suggests numerous ways of dealing with ethical dilemmas, but ethical conduct remains a challenge for modern businesspersons.

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Tensions and their Resolutions

As pointed out by Badaracco (1998), the tensions between personal morals and managerial responsibilities sometimes require choosing between one right decision and another right decision. In other words, such situations (that are termed “defining moments” by the author) involve dilemmas. In the case of dilemmas, the solution is not apparent, but it needs to be found, and the modern business ethics literature can provide the insight into the tools which can be used by managers.

An apparent means of tensions resolution is the development of ethical codes that are supposed to regulate the sphere of moral dilemmas. Gick (2003) discusses the rather unpopularized aspects of Hayek’s view of business ethics and cognitive theory and uses it as a perspective on ethical guidelines development. Hayek’s theory is connected to gestalt psychology and Kantian categories, and its key ideas include those of limited knowledge, tacit (societal) knowledge, and cultural evolution that occurs together with the development of individual and societal knowledge and morals. Gick (2003) demonstrates that the attempts to use a moral code of one country in the context of another are likely to be unsuccessful. However, the author also shows that a successful adoption of a new ethical rule, which results in better outcomes for an individual, is a possibility. This process can also be regarded as a means of resolution, which can be enforced by the government in a particular country. Moreover, while strict universal ethical rules cannot be enforced, Gick (2003) claims that very flexible ones might work, especially if the governments all over the world play a role in enforcing these rules.

However, if the code is flexible, it can fail to resolve the tensions and result in new challenges, which would be related to the interpretation of the code. Here, the individual qualities and skills of managers become of importance. In particular, in the article “Discipline of Building Character,” Badaracco (1998) offers another resolution that consists of one’s personal development. This idea should be discussed in detail.

The Framework for the Discipline of Building Character as Managers

Badaracco (1998) believes that the key to finding the balance in ethical dilemmas resolution consists in the development of the personal identities, which allows managers to reinterpret their duties and use their personal values as the basis for the future decisions. For maximum success, the identities need to be reviewed in the context of the group and the company. The author provides a variety of examples for every dilemma that he considers typical for business practice, and he also suggests the questions that should help the participants to reflect on their identities. The author also points out that adopting one’s values to the context and using them is an art in itself, but the combination of theory and practical application that is found in the work allows using it as a guide for the beginning of personal development. Other readings appear to suggest a direction for its continuation.

Ethics in the Boardroom: Wisdom, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance

There are many concepts that are related to personal development, such as wisdom, morals, and associated notions. They have been considered, viewed, and reviewed by people throughout history, which is why it is not surprising that Small (2011a) chooses to use the writings of Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics) and Cicero (On Duties) to dwell on these concepts with respect to management. The author critically analyzes the two works and discovers that both dwell on the notions of wisdom, justice, fortitude, and temperance that are regarded as the “four cardinal virtues” (Cicero terms) and help to pursue happiness, that is, “the knowledge of the true” and the “good life” (Small, 2011a, p. 836). The philosophers also described a very strict moral code that defined a moral person’s qualities and behavior. Small (2011a) uses real-life examples to demonstrate that these philosophical terms are still applicable to management and applied in the sphere with occasional referral to the philosophers.

For instance, he uses the example of executive compensation to apply the money-making ideas of Aristotle (who believed that money is the means, and moderate income should suffice for a happy person). Small (2011a) also suggests that in the future, other works of these authors or different notable philosophers can be considered within the context of business management and follows his own advice by introducing the article, in which wisdom and morals are viewed from the Greco-Roman perspective. In this study, the works of philosophers (including “Hesiod, Aeschylus, Pericles, Demosthenes, Plato, and Aristotle”) are analyzed to create the framework that the author uses to interpret a number of real-life examples (Small, 2011b, p. 113). This time, he focuses on the cases of moral malpractice and wisdom failure in business and government. He uses these examples to follow the philosophers’ belief that “re-moralization” is necessary for the society.

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A similar approach is taken by Argandona (2014) who provides the overview and investigation of the humility concept to insist that it is a crucial trait for a person in a position of power. The author discusses the origin of the word, the changes in the interpretations of the concept (which turned from the supposed weakness to a perceived strength that facilitates intrapersonal communication and is beneficial for teamwork and the climate at the workplace), and discusses the possible means of its development, emphasizing the fact that it is a continuous work.

Aristotle and Action Research

The work of Eikeland (2007) is distinguished from the rest of the works in being devoted to action research rather than personal development and ethics. However, ethics is also touched upon by the author since this article contains another attempt of using the concepts of Aristotle in the modern world. Eikeland (2007) mentions some of the relational considerations of action research, but the author concludes that the term “action research” is too general to define specific implications from the application of the works of Aristotle to the phenomenon.


Ethical dilemmas are apparently a recurring issue for managers, which has attracted the attention of business ethics researchers. They seek new approaches to the problem and suggest solutions that are aimed at institutional changes as well as personal ones. These solutions are likely to be especially useful when they are combined. While none of them can guarantee perfect resolutions of ethical tensions between the personal values and the workplace responsibilities, they are the tools that can help managers to maintain moral conduct.

Workplace-Based Case

Introduction: The Workplace Problem

The company that I work at is a global leader in oil and gas productization. It is a large global enterprise with over 100,000 employees that work at 88 locations all over the world. As a result, creating its global ethics guidelines is challenging, which has already caused conflicts in the past. The study of the business ethics theory demonstrates that this issue is universal, and the pressure to create a one-fits-all ethical code is being currently problematized and reviewed in my papers. Also, the problem is interpreted as an opportunity to reconsider the current ethical guidelines in the context of the needs of a global corporation. At the same time, a balance needs to be kept as the needs of the business are often colliding with ethical and corporate social responsibility considerations. In this paper, the week’s readings, especially Badaracco (1998), Gick (2003), and Small (2010), will be used to problematize and explore the workplace-based case.

Informing the Workplace-Based Problematizing Process

When considering ethics, it is common to apply the wisdom of others, and the readings of the week can be viewed with this purpose in mind. Gick’s (2003) ideas demonstrate and explain the impossibility of enforcing strict universal ethical rules and the difficulty of making them explicit, which deepens the understanding of the workplace-based issue. Badaracco (1998), on the other hand, suggests a tool for its resolution by focusing on managers’ self-development, which is a difficult, but very promising strategy. In general, this weeks’ literature provides numerous guidelines and frameworks for this process. Badaracco’s (1998) idea of aligning one’s personal values with those of the group and the company is also a useful idea that should demonstrate the way towards a more or less universal code. Small (2011a, 2011b) and Argandona (2014) provide some information on virtues and their application to business, which can be regarded as another aspect of self-development. Finally, Eikeland’s (2007) work stands out among this week’s readings due to its focus on action research and related insights. Also, the experience of Small (2011a, 2011b) and Eikeland (2007) suggests that future research can use the frameworks of other philosophers for the interpretation of business ethics. Therefore, the choice of an appropriate framework for the ethical guidelines development in our company can be aligned with the wisdom of the previous generations of philosophers that are especially compatible with the workplace’s needs.

New Concepts and the Workplace-Based Problem

The works of Gick (2003) and Eikeland (2007) contain the concepts that are parts of particular frameworks, which allows gaining insights into the mechanisms of ethical codes in the first case and action research in the second one. The rest of the works provide a very detailed insight into the personal development of a manager who aspired for ethical conduct. The works of Small (2011a, 2011b) include special terms like wisdom versus prudence or moral goodness versus moral duty. Argandona (2014) introduces and discusses humility as another “virtue” component, which can be used for further moral development. Also, I believe that Badaracco’s (1998) article needs to be provided to our employees for the sake of the current workplace-based problem as well as their development. The work introduces the concept of the defining moments and character building, and it provides a very useful tool for ethical dilemma resolutions.

Questionnaire Suggestions

One of the activities that are going to be undertaken to address the workplace-based problem is the gathering of the personal experiences and views of some of the key managers with the aim of gaining insights, ideas, recommendations and drawing conclusions on the issue. Given the fact that the number of key personnel is limited, and their knowledge and experience can be of great value, an open question questionnaire and a semi-structured interview are proposed. The following questions are suggested for the interviewer to guide the interview.

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  1. In your opinion, what role do business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) play in modern business? Does it correspond to the role that they should play?
  2. Think about ethics and CSR in your personal practice. What role do they play for you?
  3. Do you find that the company ethical guidelines correspond to those of your country/community?
  4. Think about culture, communities, and societies at your workplace. In your opinion, does the diversity affect the workplace’s ethical norms?
  5. When you consider the ethical guidelines suggested by our company, do you experience the need to change something? Have you actually proposed any change?
  6. When you consider the CSR of our company, are you satisfied?
  7. Think about an ethical dilemma that you have, in your opinion, resolved successfully. What helped you in the process?
  8. Think about a dilemma that, in your opinion, remained unresolved or resolved unsuccessfully. What prevented you from managing it the way you would find proper?
  9. Do you think that you are provided with the tools for ethical dilemma solutions?
  10. Please share your opinion concerning an ongoing CSR issue. For instance, you may choose the dilemma of outsourcing to poorer countries, but please feel free to express your opinion about another issue that you find most important or neglected.


Argandona, A. (2014). Humility in Management. Journal Of Business Ethics, 132(1), 63-71. Web.

Badaracco, J.L. (1998). The discipline of building character. Harvard Business Review, 76(2), 114-124.

Eikeland, O. (2007). From epistemology to gnoseology – understanding the knowledge claims of action research. Management Research News, 30(5), 344-358. Web.

Gick, E. (2003). Cognitive theory and moral behavior: The contribution of F. A. Hayek to business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 45(1/2), 149-165.

Small, M. (2011a). Developing wisdom and moral duty in management. Journal Of Management Development, 30(9), 836-846. Web.

Small, M. (2011b). Wisdom, Management and Moral Duty. Philosophy Of Management, 10(1), 113-128. Web.