“Do nice guys finish last?”

“No,” answered Tom Tyler. And he proved it with scientific evidence at the  academic TiasNimbas conference on leading with integrity. Fair guys build superior forms of organisations,  especially if they are fair in interpersonal relationships. They show respect, empathy and don’t divide teams in good and bad persons. Obvious isn’t it?

Other social scientists at the conference broadened the discussion. Followers matter. Passive followers lead to more self-serving behaviour of their leaders. Especially followers with a high need for belonging and control stimulate more fair leadership. On the other hand, it’s mainly the distributive fairness that counts: as long as they get enough out of it, leaders can do what they want. Another experiment showed that when people are forced to cheat, they keep on cheating, even if they regain free choice. As if they became morally disengaged.

One step further. It’s not only about how leaders influence followers and vice versa. They also have multiple identities, and are influenced by multiple communities and structures.  But how to research this complexity? You can not put an organisation and it’s context in a laboratory and manipulate one by one all variables. The answer to this question was rather vague. Maybe with participative observations or action learning suggested a professor from the audience.

After the academic part, the audience doubled with +/- 40 business people and consultants. Reality kicked in. “The globe is heading for “a perfect storm”. Business needs integrative, holistic leadership. People need to develop their moral sense and their character to be up for this task.” Tex Gunning, CEO Akzo Nobel speaking. In a sloganesk, appealing way. The audience loved it. A true servant leader. But after he left, at the reception, scepticism raised. And how do the experiments of the social scientists in their clean laboratories help the world?

At the end of the conference Sandra Schruijer gave comment. “Science is not valuefree.” “Is manipulation of people in experimental settings ethical?” “Why do social scientists stay so easily in their labs?” “Why did we seperate scientists and practionners in the conference?” “Why were there only European and a few Anglo-American scientists at the conference?”

The emotional charge of the comment provoked reaction from the conference president, David De Cremer. He is one of those scientists who try to take up social responsibility and meanwhile stay ‘clean’ as scientist. The idea to comment on the conference itself was dared, and had merit to deepen the meaning of the presented experiments. But it came out of the blue and too close to the end. And so the conference ended in confusion. But maybe the confusion will in time contribute to a better connection between science & business.

“Do nice guys finish last?” I’m still doubting. But does it really matter?

Koen Marichal, 28 November 2010


About Koen Marichal

Director Future Leadership Initiative at Antwerp Management School
This entry was posted in 14. Authenticity & integrity, Academic insights & evidence, Comments & events, English and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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