Unlike a Diet of Many Weiners, Aristotle Leaves No Aftertaste

By J.F. McKenna

Anthony Weiner may have done all of us a favor – philosophically speaking.  

To be sure, punsters have delighted in the congressman’s 2.0 rascality and his subsequent dissembling about it. More important, though, people are talking again about ethics and character, both in business and in public life.

Even Aristotle’s name is entering conversations. That’s right, Aristotle – Greek philosopher, student of Plato and champion of the seven classical virtues. He was a toga party favorite who called excellence, not a single act, but a habit.

Frankly, a bit of Aristotle might be just what the public square and the front office could use right now.

If you are not inclined to dust off your copy of Nicomachean Ethics, let me point you in the direction of Integrity Is A Growth Market: Character-Based Leadership (Atomic Dog Publishing, Cincinnati).

About six years ago, Greater Cleveland scholars Alan Kolp and Peter Rea published Integrity Is A Growth Market as a way to introduce good old Aristotle to a post-Enron scandal world. The two academics from Baldwin-Wallace College merged their respective expertise in business and religion to fashion a text on effective leadership based on the seven classical virtues. The book has proved a refreshing departure from most mainstream business books.

Aristotle identified the seven classical virtues as courage, faith, justice, prudence, temperance, love and hope. These virtues serve well as business virtues, the authors told me when the book first debuted.

“The goal of this book is to integrate concepts that focus on enduring wisdom (virtue and character) with concepts that focus on contemporary business issues (value and competence),” the authors explain in the book. “Character is about identity – who we want to be and how we can make a life that is bigger than ourselves. Competence is about action – what we need to know and how we execute our ideas to serve stakeholders.”

Probably no two people are better equipped to tackle such a lofty task. Kolp is holder of the Moll Chair in Faith and Life and professor of religion. His friend and colleague is director of the Center for Innovation and Growth and the Burton D. Morgan Chair for Entrepreneurial Studies.

In the days after the Enron scandal broke in 2001, the two academics mused about the introduction of Aristotelian principles into the world of balance sheets and stock options. Their musing evolved into the idea of collaborating on a single article.

Kolp’s first brush with business had been as the dean of a seminary. Rea had counseled many businesses and organizations. In 2005, Kolp told me: “We were intrigued by what each of us would bring to the conversation.” Rea added that business texts are loaded with caveats, warnings and rules about the don’ts, “but not many rules on the dos.”

So the anything-but-limited partnership of Kolp and Rea aimed to embed the seven classical virtues into the contemporary business landscape. Before long, the writing partners found themselves with not a single article, but an entire book – a scholarly but readable work. The chapters were field-tested along the way by working executives, including Pierre-Jean Everaert, a renowned European business leader and chairman of the Belgian brewing giant InBev. Kolp and Rea also enlisted Everaert to write the preface for the book.

Today’s readers of Integrity Is a Growth Market will find that Aristotle remains all business: “Aristotle did not propose that virtue be used to pursue happiness; rather, happiness occurs as a by-product of doing something worthy – when we do what we are meant to do and when we become who we were meant to be. Aristotle defines success within this context.”

But when success gets distorted, they warn, say hello to Enron scandals, Sarbanes-Oxley regulations and tasteless Weiners.

That’s why those in the business world “seek leaders who can add value (competence) and develop virtue (character) while they create new products, enter new markets and reduce costs,” write Kolp and Rea.

Now that people are talking virtue again, this book can certainly enhance the discussions. There – a little good has indeed come out of Weinergate, though a certain congressman might disagree.

On that matter, I’ll let Aristotle himself have the last word:

“The gods too are fond of a joke.”

J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications specialist. Reach him at jf_mckenna@yahoo.com .


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