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Motives, Manipulation and Morality

Motives, Manipulation and Morality

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about why people do things, and what they have in mind when they ask others to act in a particular way. It’s common to find that what people say is the reasoning behind their actions or requests isn’t the real motivation for either. I may do or say something that I claim is aimed at helping a colleague, but my real reasoning is that it will make me look good in the boss’s eyes. People make many requests that have ulterior, hidden motives. They often say things to manipulate others to do what they want. Internally, it’s called office politics, externally it’s called selling.

Questions of motivation and manipulation are important because they can undermine any leader’s authority. Leadership is an activity that comes with profound ethical and moral strings attached. You can try to deny or ignore them, but they’re still there. Doing the right thing from the wrong motives is a form of dishonesty that people nose out very rapidly.

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I’ll start with the second point. It seems more and more organizations are establishing policies designed to help people create a better work/life balance. At the same time, survey results show people are working just as hard, and many employees are convinced that taking advantage of these new policies will harm their careers.

How can this be? The answer, of course, is doing the right thing from the wrong motives. Where organizations introduce policies to look good, but don’t really believe in them, it swiftly becomes obvious the policies are only for show. You take advantage of them at your peril. It’s much the same when managers make cosmetic changes based on the hope they will make employees feel better and they’ll work harder as a result. That’s manipulation and people resent it. The only acceptable reason—the only honest reason—for doing the right thing is that it’s the right thing to do, regardless of any other benefits or drawbacks. Helping people gain better work/life balance is the right thing to do. Punishing them for taking you up on your offer, or doing it only in the belief that people will be grateful and give you more work in return, reveal base motivations behind seemingly generous actions.

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That brings me back to the first point.

There’s a kind of leadership attitude I call “business fundamentalism.” Like all other kinds of fundamentalism, it’s one-sided, dogmatic, conservative and intolerant of questioning. It’s proponents believe business decisions should be based solely on economic factors. For them, anything else is impractical.

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The essence of fundamentalism is believing there is only one way—the one you favor—and rejecting anything (and anyone) that suggests other possibilities might be worth exploring. Business fundamentalists see little or no moral aspect to business decisions, even those that affect the lives of other people. They may even have current company law on their side, through its assumption of a financial duty to shareholders to maximize their returns.

This seems to me to be blinkered and inadequate. Leadership is about making decisions, and where there is a decision, there is a question of right and wrong. You cannot remove the ethical and moral aspects from leadership. Even supposedly hard-headed financial decisions come with ethical questions attached. Is it right to abandon a pension scheme, even though doing so will cut out millions of dollars in costs and help the organization survive in better shape? Is it moral to send jobs overseas and lay off higher-paid workers at home? No one doubts the financial benefits, at least in the short term, but are finances the only consideration? Should an assumed duty to maximize shareholder returns override one’s moral duty to employees and the wider community?

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I’ll let you decide which side you want to come down on in this debate.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman and a retired business executive. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on October 9, 2018

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

How to Write a Personal Mission Statement to Ensure Peak Productivity

Most of you made personal, one sentence resolutions like “I want to lose weight” or “I vow to go back to school.” It is a tradition to start the New Year with things you want to achieve, but under the influence resolutions are often unrealistic.

If you’re wondering when will be a good time to write a mission statement, NOW is the time to take a personal inventory to make this year your most productive year ever. You may be asking yourself, “How am I going to do that?” You, my friends, are going to write personal mission statements.

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A large number of corporations use mission statements to define the purpose of the company’s existence. Sony wants to “become the company most known for changing the worldwide poor-quality image of Japanese products” and 3M wants “to solve unsolved problems innovatively”. A personal mission statement is different than a corporate mission statement, but the fundamentals are the same.

So why do you need one? A personal statement will help you identify your core values and beliefs in one fluid tapestry of content that you can read anytime and anywhere to stay on task toward success.

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For example, Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire came to the realization that he had lost track of what was important to him. After writing a personal mission statement, we saw him start his own business and he got the girl, Renee Zelleweger. Not bad, wouldn’t you say? A personal mission statement will make sure that, through all the texting, emailing and constant bombardment of on-the-go activity, you won’t lose sight of what is most important to you.

Mission statements can be simple and concise while others are longer and filled with detail. The length of your personal mission statement will not be determined until you follow this simple equation to create your motivational springboard for 2008.

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To begin your internal cleansing, you will need to jot down the required information in the following five steps:

  1. What are your values? Values steer your actions and determine where you spend time, energy, and most importantly, money. Be specific and unique to yourself. Too much generalization will not be as effective. It is called a “personal” mission statement for a reason.
  2. What are three important goals you hope to achieve this year? Keep your list of important goals small and give them a date. It is better to focus on the horizon and not the stars. Realistic goals are keys to ultimate success.
  3. What image do you hope to project to yourself? How you see yourself is how the world will view you. Think about this carefully. Your image should encompass what you look like and feel after you have achieved your goals.
  4. Write down action statements from each value describing how you will use those values to achieve your three goals. Start with “I will…”
  5. Rewrite your statement to include only your action statements. Make portable copies for your wallet, car or office.

If you followed the steps above, congratulations! You have just written your first personal mission statement. Your personal statement will change over the years as your goals change. You can have more than one statement for the different compartments of your life such as your career, family, marriage, etc.

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Writing a personal mission statement is an effective method to ensure your productivity is at its peak. It is an ideal tradition to start so that when next year rolls around, the outdated practice of resolutions will be something you permanently left in the past.

Featured photo credit: Álvaro Serrano via unsplash.com

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