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The Virtues of Relational Equality at Work

Abstract

How important is it for managers to have the “nice” virtues of modesty, civility, and humility? While recent scholarship has tended to focus on the organizational consequences of leaders having or lacking these traits, I want to address the prior, deeper question of whether and how these traits are intrinsically morally important. I argue that certain aspects of modesty, civility, and humility have intrinsic importance as the virtues of relational equality – the attitudes and dispositions by which we relate as moral equals. I provide a novel account of the normative grounds of the virtues of relational equality and develop a corresponding framework for how these virtues can be enacted by managers. The virtues are grounded in the value of opposing objectionable forms of social hierarchy, which requires social norms that grant all persons the same personal authority over their lives and interactions. I show how this view of virtue contrasts with prevailing Aristotelian, Personalist, and Smithian views in business ethics. I then explain how, for managers, sustaining and enacting the virtues of relational equality involves a distinctive cluster of role-specific traits: respect for employees’ equal personal authority, a commitment to express such respect, and a disposition to give equal weight and deference to employees’ relevant interests.

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Notes

  1. And for a recent example of how these effects can ramify throughout an organization’s culture, see (Terlep 2021).

  2. By “authority,” I mean any form of putative standing to make decisions for and demands of others, where “standing” refers to the right to have the authority recognized by others, and it can be either formal (encoded in institutions or organizations) or informal (recognized through social norms and practice). (Darwall 2006) I focus on authority instead of power precisely because it calls for, and is effective only through, its recognition. I say more about the nature and examples of this notion of authority below.

  3. This is in line with how status is described in the social psychology and sociological literature (Anderson and Kilduff 2009; Ridgeway et al. 1998), as something that includes both formal directive authority and informal influence.

  4. This encompasses a wide range of views about social norms – see (Bicchieri 2006), (Brennan 2013), and (van Wietmarschen 2021a).

  5. This is a compressed version of an argument that I develop in greater length in (Rozeboom forthcoming).

  6. For a defense of the idea that social norms can directly require attitudes, see (van Wietmarschen 2021b).

  7. For overlapping but distinct views of what this attitude involves, see (Darwall 2006) and (Korsgaard 2008).

  8. For instance, perhaps it plays a broader attentional role in our lives. (Bommarito 2013)

  9. For some helpful discussion of the deeply convention-dependent character of civility, even when it perpetuates injustice, see (Calhoun 2000, 264 − 75).

  10. For instance, Sinha (2012) conceives of humility as involving a broad disposition to care more about “others’ feelings” than receiving esteem and acclaim for oneself.

  11. Consider, for instance, how the idea of giving weight to others’ interests is discussed in the systematic overview of the servant leadership literature in (Parris and Peachey 2013).

  12. This MacIntyrean line of thought is especially well developed in the work of Geoff Moore (e.g., 2005, 2008). Moore is concerned with the moral corruption caused by capitalist institutions. For Moore, this corruption is twofold: first, in requiring individuals to focus on the goal of generating profit, capitalist institutions make it difficult for individuals to exercise many of the moral virtues, which involve responding to a wide range of goals and considerations. This creates a “division” within individuals, who, whenever they act as members of capitalist institutions, are forced to shed the characters they strive (or should strive) to maintain in their non-work lives. (2005, 243) This is a threat to individuals’ moral integrity. Second, in undermining individual integrity in this way, capitalist institutions also undermine the conditions for a flourishing community, in which individuals can develop and exercise the virtues together. (Ibid, 244) To address these threats, Moore argues that we should develop a practice of “craftsmanship” within capitalist institutions. Approaching one’s work as a craftsperson involves responding to a wider range of goods than are contained in the capitalist goal of profit, including the shared, public goods that one’s craft is supposed to serve. (Ibid, 248-9)

  13. For seminal discussions of the virtue of self-respect, see (Hill Jr. 1973) and (Dillon 1997).

  14. See, e.g., (Hill Jr. 1992), (Darwall 2006), (Waldron 2015), and (Killmister 2020).

  15. Although, there are serious concerns about whether contemporary marketplaces can be configured to adequately support the full range of bourgeois virtues – see (Wells and Grafland 2012).

  16. So, I am not assimilating avarice and greed into the virtue of prudence – see (Calkins and Werhane 1998, 57).

  17. See also (Satz forthcoming).

  18. For some recent, nuanced discussion of the Kantian feeling of respect and the humility it involves, see (Darwall 2021).

  19. On the connection between heeding authority and accepting accountability, see (Darwall 2006).

  20. See (Rozeboom forthcoming), and for more general discussions of transparency in nudging, (Schmidt 2017, 2019).

  21. On the importance of employees expressing anger and indignation, see (Tsuruda forthcoming).

  22. This is related to, but distinct from, the idea of creating a “no-blame” organization, as critically examined in (Lupton and Warren 2018). I am not proposing that an organization be free from the expression of angry blame.

  23. See the timeline here: https://stories.starbucks.com/stories/2019/starbucks-pride-a-long-legacy-of-lgbtq-inclusion/.

  24. On this claim about employee privacy expectations for their social media usage, see (Sanchez et al. 2012).

  25. This is not to make the mistake of thinking that virtue reduces to behavioral regularities – see (Alzola 2018: 608).

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Saint Mary’s College of California, School of Economics & Business Administration Dean’s Summer Research Grant.

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Correspondence to Grant J. Rozeboom.

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Rozeboom, G.J. The Virtues of Relational Equality at Work. Humanist Manag J (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41463-022-00129-1

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Keywords

  • Relational equality
  • Virtue ethics
  • Managerial virtue
  • Modesty
  • Civility
  • Humility