Forge a Moral Identity in Business: A Ten-Point Approach

February 2005
by William Damon

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Morality creates a valuable business advantage for those who employ it consistently and imaginatively. That’s a primary finding of a study I directed recently at Stanford University that involved lengthy interviews with 48 men and women who have achieved success in business.

But there are two hazards in writing about morality. The first is that readers will dismiss it as marginal to their real-world concerns, an idealistic luxury that has little to do with our daily struggles for survival or fights for fame and glory. The second is less direct and harder to combat: People who speak or write about morality have a way of sounding moralistic, preachy, and, worst of all, holier-than-thou.

I do not wish to sound preachy, and being moralistic is not at all the same as being moral. In business as well as in life in general, people who are moralistic tend to be arrogant rather than humble, and their sense of superiority can lead their judgments and their choices astray as well as prevent them from learning from their mistakes–and everyone makes mistakes. Morality is always a work in progress undertaken with humility. People who remain aware of their own imperfections and determined to improve throughout their entire careers are the ones most likely to do the right thing for themselves and their companies.

Combating Inner Corruption

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