Hiring for Virtue
October 23, 2009 5 Comments
This morning, I had the privilege of attending the “Trust Summit” breakfast meeting, featuring Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan), Julien Smith (@julien), David Maister (davidmaister.com), and Charlie Green (@charleshgreen). The panel was very engaging, and it was refreshing to hear people of substance and experience reinforcing the idea that the core of business is doing things right, and caring about people.
At one point during the session, as the discussion turned to the type of people who are trustworthy, I put out the following series of tweets:
- I don’t think you can teach virtue. You model it, and you hire virtuous people. Then you train specific behaviors. My 2 cents
- I’d hold that if someone doesn’t have a virtuous approach by the time you’re looking to hire them for biz, it’s too late.
- We should hire FOR basic virtue, not with the hope of imparting what isn’t there. Otherwise, trust will never occur.
Let’s take a step back – we live in an age of subjectivity where words are often drained of meaning, so by virtuous character, I mean a person with a clear, well-founded, internally-embraced and externally practiced code of conduct that conforms to norms of ethical uprightness. Unfortunately, many will dispute what ethical uprightness actually IS, but an honest person who practices the Golden Rule smells an awful lot like what I’m talking about.
I don’t believe it is the role of a business to teach virtuous character to its employees. I believe that leaders should model it, encourage it, and train for specific behaviors that align with a virtuous and ethical approach to business. But we’re in business to do business, to serve and to perform – we should HIRE people with virtuous character and then give them the specific pathways to walk in.
I guess I should also say that we’re all “in progress”, and very few people have their virtue muscles fully exercised. But even though our character is still under development, there’s a core of “rightness” in the soul that cannot be imparted by teaching and management. External forces can shape and sharpen, can water and cultivate – but until someone is ready to be BE virtuous, they’ll never become trust-worthy.
Can and should virtue and character be taught? Yes. But that should be done in the formative years, but parents and other members of the surrounding community. It is not the role of a business to put in virtuous character, but to hire the best people who actually possess it.
I believe that, by practicing the principles found in books like Trust Agents and The Trusted Advisor (books authored by the panelists mentioned above) we can encourage the people who have virtuous character (in bud or in full flower) to create or find the types of businesses that will have an ethical core – businesses that will do good and succeed over the long haul because the people leading them are GOOD PEOPLE.
What we don’t need is “check off the box” training programs on ethics. We need virtuous people – in business, in government, in churches, and everywhere else. That is our greatest challenge. Talent and brains are cheap. People with a heart and a conscience and a spine – that’s pure gold.
Am I some off-base idealist? Or is this the way it oughta be?
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