Is Greed Good?

The other day I wrote about the importance of teaching business ethics, and received two very good comments. One of the comments came from a very old (not his age) and dear friend of mine. He wrote:

A definition I’ve heard and like is: managers do things right; leaders do the right thing (related to your question!) Simplistic, but I believe it to be true. Do we need managers, absolutely! Do we need leaders who can manage, again: yes that usually goes hand-in-hand. So, how do we (you as a professor) not only teach, but also instill a hunger in young men and women to become leaders and then impart that knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a leader?
We need leaders, but these leaders need to be ethical individuals that can lead our organizations to higher levels of performance in the age of hyper-competition. Typically when I teach about leadership in my classes I focus on the moral characteristic of leadership. For people to follow leaders they must see a rightness in what the leader is trying to get the follower to see. This does not mean that the leader is perfect, that is unless we are talking about Jesus Christ, but it means that the vision communicated by the leader is one that others can grab onto and make their own. It becomes shared because of its morality.

Today’s Wall Street Journal demonstrated the importance of recognizing right and wrong in the area of leadership. The article I read was entitled “Insider Targets Expanding.” It appears that the FBI is building cases on over 200 people. These individuals may be guilty of insider trading. However, at least 120 of them will probably be prosecuted. This has shaken the financial world, as it should.

What really drew my attention was a quote attributed to Michael Douglas, the actor. The FBI has developed a public service announcement alerting us to the reality that insider trading is a crime. Michael Douglas played Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street, where his famous line, which is still quoted today, is “the point is that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” However, this is not the quote that drew my attention.

What really concerned me was a comment that was made concerning Douglas. Wall Street professionals will stop Michael Douglas on the street and tell him that they admire Gordon Gekko and his values. This concerns me. Douglas is said to have stated, “Where are the values? What are people thinking when I’m hailed as a hero in that role?”

Many colleges and universities teach business ethics as a required course. Can you imagine what would be happening if they didn’t? Greed is nothing new, it has been in existence since the fall of mankind. The fact is professors need to continue to warn their students that greed is not good, but it will end up in a prison sentence. Just ask Bernie Madoff what greed did for him.

We need to teach business ethics, and we need to train leaders who understand the difference between right and wrong, not just doing things right, but doing the right things.

And that is my thought for the day!


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