Venky's Search For Wisdom
To our website visitors: Venky is a recent visitor to this website who often asks me interesting questions. He is on a quest for wisdom like many people I know now. I thought you might like to see some of the recent exchanges, as my fellows and I, along with friends, grapple with some of his questions. I'd love to see your comments on each of these exchangess I'll be posting over the next few weeks. Just email us your reactions, and name your email "Venky". We look forward to learning from your perspective!
I have been reading your articles regularly and I take great interest in them, especially because my passion is focused at the intersection of philosophy and management.
If my figures are right, in the last 10 years I have read more than 500 books and articles about business, management, leadership, successful war heroes, great business leaders, and so on. I have read about Machiavelli, Jack Welch, and recently, Lou Gerstnerıs biography. I also read regularly magazines and newspapers like the WALL STREET JOURNAL, FORTUNE, FAST COMPANY, and many others.
My research boils down to the conclusion that a few critical things are needed for success :
#4. Analytical Thinking (many of the most successful people in big companies are from some of the best business schools)
#5. Visionary Tendencies (like Steve Jobs)
But what I also found here in America is that to become successful one sometimes has to be :
#1. Egoistic (Steve Jobs especially during his earlier Mac days was one hell of a Egoist, the definition being more "I" than "We" - more the attitude of "Follow my ideas because yours won´t get you anywhere.")
#3. Prone to Display Power
#4. Inclined to Flaunt Wealth to get accepted in the right places
#5. Unforgiving of enemies, even vindictive
#6. Seemingly Presumptuous of near Omnipotence
#7. Obnoxiously Controlling
There are so many successful people (success here being defined as have having decent wealth, decent power, decent status, etc.) with all those negative traits.
My question is : As long as you have MORE good traits or MORE good "code of conduct" or character than bad ones, is it OK?
Philosophy, depending on how it is interpreted, can really tame an arrogant or egoistic person, which seems good, but it can also, in doing so, kill that personıs "killer instincts" too. And doesnıt that put a person at a disadvantage in the business world?
How does one handle all these negative (philosophically) yet positive (sometimes realistically) emotions to become successful? Where does one draw the line?
Richard Farsonıs book, Management of the Absurd, affected me a lot (to change some of my fixed or "conditioned perceptions" like Jiddu Krishnamurthy - one of Indiaıs great philosophers, calls it) and hence I am quoting him here:
"It has always puzzled researchers why a gruff, demanding autocrat could have roughly the same results as a gently, sensitive democratically oriented manager. Some suggest that whatever their management style, if it is authentically THEIRS, if it is congruent with them personally, it will succeed."
What´s your take on this?
I have a lot of respect for your thoughts and wanted to know your opinion on these matters.
I am in no hurry. You can please answer this at your leisure.
Initial Reaction From Tom Morris
Dear Venky - With your permission, I'll share your questions with some of the Fellows and friends of the Institute, in adddition to answering them myself. The wisdom of many can sometimes be very illuminating.
Response 1: From Robert Woods (PhD Florida State), Former Institute Fellow
Tom - Just to respond specifically to 2 items:
Venky asked: "As long as you have MORE good traits or MORE good 'code of conduct' or character THAN bad ones, is it OK?"
We would never say, "just as long as you have more good cells than cancerous cells you will be fine." The cancerous cells will eventually take over the healthy cells. Or in a more proverbial vein, "one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch." My personal theory of character development is that we have certain character traits, but at some point we become a certain type of character because of collective and cumulative habits. (Read C. S. Lewis' THE GREAT DIVORCE) We can never totally eliminate all the bad habits or actions, but we should always strive to diminish their effect on our overall character. If we are replacing bad habits (slandering) with good habits (saying kind words), then we become the kind of person who is an encourager, not a gossip.
In another place Venky says: "Some suggest that whatever their management style, if it is authentically THEIRS, if it is congruent with them personally, it will succeed."
It seems that 'congruent' is a synonym for 'coherent'. If a person was an island, then maybe authenticity would be all that matters. We interact with other authentic beings and recognize that there will be conflicts with management styles. What is the best management style when this happens?
Your insights into Napoleon and the consequences of unethical actions (or bad character traits) sowing the seeds for their own destruction is a great answer to him on this point.
I would be interested in hearing more about how Venky responds to such points. This is a perfect illustration how you bring a lot to the current discussion.
Take Care, Robert
Response 2 - Part One: From Sam Litzinger, CBS Radio Journalist
Tom - Well, first, I'd say Venky and I know many of the same management teams!
I once had a student in an ethics class who, from the first day, took the position that self-interest should be the only motivation for action. I knew he was a very bright kid, so I told him I wanted him to defend that point of view as fiercely as he could for the rest of the semester. I, the rest of the class, and this student went round and round for weeks. His final paper was excellent, laying out the history of self-interest from the Greeks to his own system. When we were done, I asked if he was still convinced he was right. He said yes - but thought he might add the word "enlightened" to the "self-interest" phrase. I thought that was fine.
Venky, of course, raises the still-pressing question: Why do so many jerks do so well? (Donald Trump being a case in point.)
My answer tends to fall along the following lines: Yes, many jerks do well. For a while. Maybe for their whole lives. But what kind of lives are they, when many of their professional colleagues despise them? There are far too many successful Ebenezer Scrooges out there for my taste. I think philosophical inquiry at least has the potential to make anyone - jerks and non-jerks alike - question the lives they're leading with the view toward making them richer - certainly morally and perhaps financially, as well.
That's just a quick response and I'm sure you have a better one. I just happened to see your e-mail at work and it proved a happy distraction from covering the goofy WTO meeting! More later when I can respond more coherently.
I'm assuming that Venky, being a Hindu, has read THE BHAGAVAD GITA, so he may be yanking your chain a bit. Arjuna asks virtually the same question in a slightly different form and gets a pretty interesting answer from Krishna.
Response 2 Part Two, From Sam Litzinger, CBS Radio
Tom - The main question for Venky seems to be how to define success. If simply being a rich businessperson means being successful, then you could presumably be pond scum and achieve some success -- at least in purely financial terms. But I'd like to think being a success involves a good deal more than just making money. And everyone from Plato to the Dalai Lama reminds us that being a success involves cultivating a spiritual as well as a financial life.
Besides, would you rather be, say, Howard Hughes as he approached the end of his life -- or Socrates as he approached his end?
Just for fun and in case Venky wants to check out something from the Indian tradition, here's a section of the GITA that might be relevant. Krishna's telling Arjuna how to be a sage: "Fearlessness, singleness of soul, the will always to strive for wisdom; opened hand and governed appetites; and piety and love of lonely study; humbleness, uprightness, heed to injure naught which lives, truthfulness, slowness unto wrath, a mind that lightly letteth go what others prize; and equanimity, and charity which spieth no man's faults; and tenderness towards all that suffer; a contented heart, fluttered by no desires; a bearing mild, modest, and grave, with manhood nobly mixed with patience, fortitude and purity; an unrevengeful spirit, never given to rate itself too high; - such be the signs, O Indian Prince! of him whose feet are set on that fair path which leads to heavenly birth! Deceitfulness, and arrogance, and pride, quickness to anger, harsh and evil speech, and ignorance to its own darkness blind, - these be the signs, My Prince! of him whose birth is fated for the regions of the vile."
And here's a nice passage from the "Manu-Smrti", a text in which "Everyman" Manu receives the revelation of Brahman's laws: "Giving no pain to any creature, let him slowly accumulate spiritual merit, for the sake of acquiring a companion to the next world, just as the white ant gradually raises its hill. For in the next world neither father, nor mother, nor wife, nor sons, nor relations stay to be his companions; spiritual merit alone remains with him. Single is each being born; single it dies; single it enjoys the reward of its virtue; single it suffers the punishment of its sin."
Now I have to go crush some hapless competitors and fire some underlings!
Response 3: From Lauren Patch, Former President of Ohio Casualty Companies
Tom, I 'm probably the wrong person to ask this question as I just fired my COO for the same position on the issue as Venky seems tempted to take. I'm convinced that this gentleman has witnessed what many people truly believe is the way to move an organization. However, I'm just as convinced they are wrong. Means aren't always justified by the end. Anyone who thinks otherwise has missed your whole focus on the sort of process which can move an organization at the same speed without all the turmoil. If this gentleman is as prolific a reader as he suggests, ask him to take a look at a book called THE INFORMED HEART. It is a story of an authoritative leadership style during the holocaust. It moved many to line up for the ovens of extermination ... but to what end?
I have seen this issue played out in the life of my company. As you know, we recently brought together two companies. One only has to juxtapose our organizationıs behavior before and during the integration of the new company. As I've shared with you, few understood how much they grasped about our direction, our goals, and our value system until they encountered within the same framework an "opposite". People want to throw ticker tape parades in euphoria now that the individual with the harsh leadership style and divergent values has been eliminated, which is itself not proper, but underscores the commitment they now have for proper achievement.
I probably won't sway Venkyıs views until he's experienced both sorts of leadership. Yet, history has a number of testaments to authoritarianism and its short term success, and then ultimate failure. Venkyıs initial values seem to track almost perfectly with your 7 C's but he's getting sidetracked with the temptation that short term focus is the only measure to heed. Unfortunately, my bias is to the long term. Ask the Japanese what happens when you begin to tilt in favor of the short term. The business world is littered with such stories.
I guess my counsel is not the best here ... whatever you can add would save this fellow from a lot of misery he'll find later.
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