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Virtue theory Essay Example for Free

Virtue theory Essay Abstract: This paper develops and explores a pedagogical innovation for integrating virtue theory into business students basic understanding of general management. Eighty-seven students, in 20 groups, classified three managers real-time videotaped activities according to an elaboration of Aristotles cardinal virtues, Fayols management functions, and Mintzbergs managerial roles. The studys empirical evidence suggests that, akin to Fayols functions and Mintzbergs roles, Aristotles virtues are also amenable to operationalization, reliable observation, and meaningful description of managerial behavior. The study provides an oft-called-for empirical basis for further work in virtue theory as an appropriate conceptual framework for the study and practice of management. The results indicate that virtue theory may be used to re-conceive our fundamental understanding of management, alongside its capacity to weigh moral judgment upon it. Implications and suggestions for future research are discussed. Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit. we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts. —Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics V irtue theory has generated increasing interest among moral philosophers (e. g. , Maclntyre, 1981) and business ethicists (e. g. , Hartman, 1998; Koehn, 1995; Mintz, 1996; Moberg, 1999). While limitations of virtue theory have been justly noted (Koehn, 1998), scholars have effectively drawn on Aristotles (1999) virtues to help business students develop their moral capacities (Hartman, 1998; Mintz, 1996; Solomon, 1992). However, a significant challenge remains to help business students incorporate ethical concerns into a more integrated understanding of the practice of management (Park, 1998) and enhance their ability to recognize ethical issues (Gautschi and Jones, 1998). Our study seeks to address the moral integration problem by exploring a pedagogical strategy aimed at providing business students a moral lens via placing the virtues alongside other well-known frameworks of management. In  ©2001. Business Ethics Quarterly, Volume H, Issue 4. ISSN 1052-150X. pp. 561-574 562. BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY particular, students enrolled in a general management course were asked to observe managers actions and classify them according to tbree frameworks: our version of Aristotles (1999) four cardinal virtues; atextbook adaptation of Fayols (1949) functions of management; and our operationalization of Mintzbergs (1973) managerial roles. Most management textbooks are organized according to Fayols four functions (planning, organizing, controlling, and leading), with Mintzbergs roles being the second most-mentioned approach (Carroll and Gillen, 1987). We argue that, just as Fayol and Mintzberg provide frameworks that have proven helpful in talking and thinking about management and for helping students and practitioners to develop good habits of organizing, planning, making resource allocation decisions, and so forth, so also an Aristotelian approach will help us to talk and think about management in a way that permits integrating good ethical habits into management practice. Put differently, as expressed in the familiar maxim, A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing, at the heart of tbis current study is a pedagogy to provide management students an Aristotelian way of seeing what management is, to place alongside the more familiar and entrenched Fayolian and Mintzbergian ways of seeing. Providing students witb a lens drawn from virtue theory, to use alongside their lenses of managerial functions and roles, promises to help students integrate moral theory into general management thinking and practice. The remainder of our paper is divided into three parts. We begin by describing how we adapted Aristotles four cardinal virtues for our study, and present the tbree general research questions that guided our research. In the second part we present our method and our findings. The final section provides a discussion of the implications of our findings, future directions for research, and the potential usefulness of the virtues for integrating ethical concerns into management education. Virtue Theory and Management. It is commonplace to see management in terms of Fayols functions (planning, leading, organizing, and controlling) and in terms of Mintzbergs roles (interpersonal, informational, decision-making, etc. ). In particular, most management textbooks suggest that these ways of seeing provide the essential, basic lenses for developing an understanding about management (Carroll and Gillen, 1987). In this paper, we contend that virtue theory can be used in a similar way to provide a basic foundational view of management. Indeed, to make our case as forcefully as possible, we claim tbat virtue theory is primarily about management. For example, from Aristotles (1999) assertion tbat tbe purpose of life is to maximize bappiness, and that bappiness can only be maximized by practicing virtues in community, it follows that how we manage our communities is of main concern. Whereas for Aristotle ethics culminated in politics, we are suggesting tbat today etbics culminates in management, as managers play a critical role in society (cf. Maclntyre, 1981). Solomon (1992: 104 emphasis added bere) concurs that an Aristotelian approach to business ethics ARISTOTLES VIRTUES AND MANAGEMENT THOUGHT 563 conceives of business as an essential part of the good life, living well, getting along with others, having a sense of self-respect, and being part of something one can be proud of. Because managers in our society have a great say in what practices occur in business and organizations, and thus in facilitating social purpose, we contend that they are a central figure in virtue theory, Aristotles Virtues Reformulated for Todays Business Organization Just as Fayols original functions have been adapted and reformulated over time to fit and reflect contemporary concerns, so also we have adapted Aristotles four cardinal virtues for our study. Toward this end, we found the work of Solomon (1992) particularly helpful. Thus, our description of wisdom, justice, courage, and self-control takes into account the contextual and embedded qualities of virtues as relevant for present-day managers. We hasten to add that for our present purposes, our focus is on examining whether a virtue theory-based approach to conceptualizing management is empirically possible; it is not critical to our present enterprise that the particular virtues we have chosen, or our particular operationalizations, are the most appropriate. Similar to Aristotle (1999), we conceive of practical wisdom as a capacity for deliberation and action by individuals to obtain what is good for themselves and others in general. Practical wisdom entails the ability to ask insightful questions, evaluate real-world business situations, and apply relevant knowledge to the-individual-in-the-organization (Solomon, 1992: 111) unit of analysis. Instead of an individual or community focus, the business manager who possesses practical wisdom views individuals as embedded in community and understands that a potential dichotomy between the two is more apparent than real. S/he recognizes the reciprocity of individual and community good despite the complexities associated with a plurality of different stakeholders. When Mintz (1996: 829) notes that wisdom is an intellectual virtue and is considered to be the consequence of teaching and for that reason requires experience and time to be cultivated, it draws particular attention to the responsibility of scholars and leaders who shape how we think about and understand management. Solomon (1992) views justice, in the sense of fairness and everyone connected with an organization getting their due, as the basic virtue that holds institutions together. This emphasizes a personal responsibility as essential to business organizations, and reflects present-day concerns with the accountability of private and public institutions as citizens in society as well as organizational citizenship behavior by individuals. With the growth of highly complex multinational corporations, burgeoning bureaucracies, and unregulated cyberspace, it is more incumbent today than ever for individuals to act justly with promptitude and pleasure (Pieper, 1965: 63, 113) and to develop personal responsibility for their participation in organizations and larger communities. Our view of the virtue of courage in organizations today differs from traditional notions of courage in battle or courage of ones convictions—both instances 564 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY of extraordinary virtue which depend on especially threatening contexts (Solomon, 1992). To nurture oneself as an intimate part of a community, we see courage as a continuous fortitude or stamina to resist the ongoing pressures for impression management, job-hopping, and self-aggrandizement in todays organizations, which all potentially undermine other virtues necessary for community, such as honesty, loyalty, trust, and so forth. Courage implies hope and acting for the good of all even if this may diminish ones own status. Courage may involve speaking out on matters of injustice and personal conviction, and generally concerns maintaining ones integrity or wholeness (Solomon, 1992) in an increasingly fragmenting corporate context. The last of the four virtues, self-control or temperance, we see as relating to contemporary concerns with managers emotional regulation and impulse control. Such internal regulation is likened to Aristotles (1999) notion of virtue as a kind of mean, with excess and deficiency as vices (e. g. , see Aristotles commentary on anger). For instance, it is widely accepted that assertive, instead of aggressive or passive-aggressive, communications are more helpful in building relationships. Intermediate, rather than excessive or deficient, emotion is necessary for fostering other corporate virtues such as caring, gentleness, and compassion (Solomon, 1992). Self-control entails keeping focus on the whole, rather than over-reacting to details. Temperance in moderating desires is important (e. g. , reducing exorbitant individual and organizational consumption levels), but self-control vis-a-vis emotionality is especially relevant in todays crowded organizations, cities, and societies. Of course, the challenge that others have raised (e. g. , Hartman, 1998; Maclntyre, 1981; Mintz, 1996), and which underlies our current study, is to make virtues observable in management practice and a relevant guiding framework for management theory. More generally, this reinforces our overarching goal of placing this alternative way of seeing management alongside the two most common current ways of seeing (i. e. , Fayol and Mintzberg), and having virtue theory viewed as a partner framework for understanding and guiding management theory and practice. Research Questions We did not enter this study with a particular set of hypotheses we wished to test. Rather, ours is an exploratory study aimed at examining whether Aristotles virtues are similarly observable in managerial behavior by students as are Fayols functions and Mintzbergs roles. This leads to our first research question, to determine whether there are any differences between how able management students are to capture and classify managerial behavior using virtue theory versus the more commonly used managerial functions and roles frameworks. Can students be trained to see the four virtues as often as the managerial functions and roles? In terms of anticipated results from this first question, since our methodology was adapted from Mintzbergs original study, we expected students to be able to. ARISTOTLES VIRTUES AND MANAGEMENT THOUGHT 565 classify a greater proportion of managers activities using his framework than Fayols. We were not sure how well virtue theory could be used to classify behavior, but, given that it is a less common lens through which to view management, we would not have been surprised had students observed virtues less frequently. Of course, the less frequently virtue theory is able to categorize management behavior, the less utility it might have as an overarching approach on par with function and role theory. Our second research question is a deeper examination of the first. We wanted to compare how the various students applied the tbree frameworks, with an eye toward seeing whether there was some consistency in classifications of managers activities across students. Again, given the kinship between our methodology and Mintzbergs, we expected his framework to generate the highest inter-rater reliability. And, given the fact that management virtue theory is relatively underdeveloped, we might expect to see the least consistency in this framework. Of course, we were interested in this question because, in order for the virtues to be a useful framework for understanding management, they must be amenable to operationalization and consistent observation. We are using virtues as a way of understanding or (re)conceiving what management is, not as a way to pass moral judgment on it. In sum, we are interested in whether the consistency of students classifications of virtues were comparable to managerial functions and roles. Finally, we were curious to examine whether there were any inter-relationships between virtue theory and the other two frameworks. Again, as there is virtually (pun intended) no research in this area, our a priori expectations were based on speculation and intuition. Thus, for example, we might expect that managers who exhibit relatively high levels of justice might be more likely to manifest the controlling function and the decisional role. In asking this third exploratory question, we wanted to investigate how the virtues might be related to functions and roles in the behavior of actual managers, and how the three frameworks may be integrated. Method The methodology used for this study was adapted from the original method Mintzberg (1973) used in developing his managerial roles. We videotaped three managers from the same manufacturing firm during their regular work hours. The total amount of taping for all three managers combined was 9 hours, 39 minutes, and 56 seconds, and included the general manager, the financial controller, and a sales manager. These managerial positions comprise a reasonable representation of the variation in managerial job categories of the focus organization. The data reported here are based on the work of twenty student groups enrolled in one of three sections of an Introduction to Management and Organization Theory course offered in a midwest public university. The data reported here are based on the work of 87 students, with 4 or 5 students in each group. Each group was given the task of classifying one of the three different managers behavior according to each of the frameworks developed by Aristotle, Fayol, and 566 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY Mintzberg. To help students operationalize each of the categories within each of the three frameworks, the instructor provided them with templates of each. An abridged overview of the templates is provided in Table 1. The templates described various behaviors that represent each of the managerial virtues, functions, and roles. Readers wishing more detailed information on Fayols functions may consult any introductory management textbook (the template used in this study was based on the description presented in Starke and Sexty, 1992, the textbook used in the students course). Similarly, further information on Mintzbergs managerial roles can be found in Mintzberg (1973), which was used to prepare the template for this study. Table 1: Operationalization of Virtues, Functions, and Roles Category Sample Actions. Aristotles Virtues Practical Wisdom Justice Courage Self-control Using appropriate knowledge required to size up a real world situation and making a decision that increases the common good; helping subordinates to improve in a way that allows them to feel good about themselves; asking insightful questions Giving credit for success where credit is due; assigning appropriate accountability and responses for failure; accepting and acknowledging the merit in advice/wisdom from others. Treating set-backs as temporary; empowering others rather than hoarding power; complimenting others; accepting others counsel even when it may seem to diminish self status Making other-full decisions; calming a situation where over-reaction might be tempting; correcting a mistake in a self-controlled manner; letting go of details to embrace a larger perspective Fayols Functions Planning Organizing Controlling Determining new industries to enter in the future; setting and priorizing market share goals; determining tevel of vertical integration; choosing strategic focus; implementing and evaluating plans. Setting policy statements; establishing procedures; setting rules; determining how a specific service is to be performed or product to be manufactured; ensuring payroll or accounting functions are performed uniformly across the organization Touring facilities; reviewing financial/productivity reports; evaluating individual, group and/or organizational performance; rewarding good performance or taking corrective action for poor performance Mintzbergs Roles Interpersonal Informational Decisional. Helping a subordinate to leam a new task; making job assignments for subordinates; meeting with other managers at the same level within the organization; talking to competitors/suppliers/customer organizations Readitig industry newspapers; attending industry conferences; reading fmancial reports; sending memos; attending weekly staff meetings; relaying information fiom upper level managers; lobbying for organizational unit Develop a new way to produce or to market a product or service; responding to day-to-day crises; setting budgets; deciding how to increase capacity; conducting union negotiations. ARISTOTLES VIRTUES AND MANAGEMENT THOUGHT 567 An earlier study based on these data provided a much more detailed rationale for how each of the various categories and sub-categories were established. For the present study, it is sufficient to make two notes. First, rather than provide a detailed analysis of each of Mintzbergs ten roles, we here report data only for his three basic roles: interpersonal, informational, and decisional. This allows for a much more parsimonious presentation. Second, our analysis includes data on only three of Fayols roles: planning, controlling, and organizing. Students were not asked to code Fayols leading function for several reasons, but mostly because the curriculum in our university covers the leading function in a different course. 2 Results The data from the twenty reports were analyzed in several ways to address our three guiding research questions. We used simple descriptive statistics to examine the first question, namely, whether there were any differences between how ably students could classify managers behaviours using the three conceptual frameworks (i. e. , virtues, functions, and roles). As shown in Table 2, the findings were different than expected. First, because our methodology is adapted from Mintzbergs, we expected that his roles would be evident more often in the videotapes than Fayols functions and Aristotles virtues. We found that the opposite occurred. Although the students did classify 80 percent of the managers behavior using Mintzbergs roles, this was slightly less than the 82 percent of the time they classified using Fayols functions, and both these are statistically significantly less than the 89 percent of managers behavior students classified using Aristotles virtues (p . 01). Practical wisdom was the most frequently categorized virtue at 48. 4 percent, followed by justice at 26. 6 percent, courage at 8. 6 percent, and self-control at 5. 3 percent. Fayols functions were categorized at 17. 1 percent for planning, 22. 5 percent for organizing, and 42. 4 percent for controlling. Mintzbergs roles were categorized 51. 3 percent for interpersonal, 24. 5 percent for informational, and 4. 4 percent for decisional. Our second research question was to examine how much consistency there was between students in observing the various virtues in managers. For virtue theory to be a useful way to understand management, and for it to be most helpful in developing students ethical competencies, there should be consistency. Thus, inter-rater reliabilities were calculated to measure the consistency of student group observations vis-a-vis each framework (see Table 2). As we expected, inter-rater reliability scores among the 20 groups were the highest for Mintzhergs roles at . 98 and lowest for Fayols functions at . 82; Aristotles virtues ranked between these two frameworks, at . 91. 568 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY. Table 2: Descriptive Statistics and Inter-Rater Reliability Category n Category mean (†¢/o of time) Wisdom 20 48. 4 20. 3 Justice 20 26. 6 19. 9 Courage 20 8. 6 8. 3 Self-control 20 5. 3 Framework mean (†¢/. of time) Framework inter. rater reliability 88  » 5. 1 5d .91 82. D .82 80. 2 n Aristotles Virtues Fayols unctions Planning 20 17 1 14. 5 Organizing 20 22. 5 18. 7 Controlling 20 42. 4 19. 8 Interpersonal 20 SI. 3 14. 4 Infonnational 20 24 5 5. 5 Decisional 20 4. 4 3 1 Mintzber gs Roles Finally, our third research question was to explore how the virtues related to the other frameworks. Toward this end we calculated Pearson correlations between each virtue, function, and role (see Table 3 below). As this is an exploratory study, we used an alpha level of . 10 to examine significant correlations. We found four significant correlations between the virtues and the categories of the other frameworks. Practical wisdom correlated positively with both Fayols planning function (. 38, p=. O99) and Mintzbergs interpersonal role (. 55, p=. O12), and negatively with the controlling function (-. 41, p=. O74). Justice correlated negatively with the interpersonal role (-.40, p=. O78) and had an almost statistically significant positive correlation with the controlling function (. 36, p=. 118). Two more statistically significant correlations were found within the four virtues: (i) a negative correlation between justice and practical wisdom (-. 77, p=. OOO); and (ii) a negative correlation between justice and courage (-. 51, p=. O21). Finally, three other significant correlations emerged among categories outside of virtue theory: (i) a negative correlation between the organizing function and the controlling function (-. 70, p=.OOl); (ii) a negative correlation between the informational and decisional roles (-. 45, p=. O49); and (iii) a positive correlation between the planning function and the interpersonal role (. 61, p=. 004). In sum, it may be noteworthy that, of the nine statistically significant correlations found, most included at least one of the virtues (six), and fewer included one of the functions or one of the roles (four each). ARISTOTLES VIRTUES AND MANAGEMENT THOUGHT ao S p O g o 9 q o o o II 569 p o CN Z 9 tn so rn o e s o I o 00 I o 10 (N 2 g o o o o o 2S8 e o ci d o 8 i o. b O o U  § i  § 9 U , . ; N .2 s 3 570 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY Discussion For proponents of a virtue theory of management, the results of our exploratory study are encouraging. Our findings offer preliminary empirical support for the contention that Aristotles virtues provide a useable framework for integrating moral concerns into a holistic view of management. Our results, that students are able to observe the virtues in actual managerial behavior, encourage their further use and development as a framework for education in management theory and business ethics. We will now discuss the implications of our findings, and future research opportunities, in more detail. Research Question #7 In regard to our first research question concerning the different frameworks efficacy to classify managerial behavior, Aristotles virtues performed better than the two most commonly used conceptual frameworks in management teaching. Students were able to use virtue theory to categorize almost ninety percent of managers behavior, about ten percent more than functions or roles. Thus, the further use and development of a virtue theory framework for teaching students about the responsibilities of management is supported. Future researchers may examine the link between the training that students receive and their subsequent ability to observe virtues, and also whether their ability to observe virtues is related to their likelihood of putting them into practice. This latter linkage, between being able to see in others and doing oneself, also undergirds mainstream management theory (e. g., students who observe the managerial roles will be more able to play those roles themselves) and is of particular relevance from a virtue theory perspective. Students who traditionally are taught to pose questions like What function or role should I be trying to improve as a manager? can be provided a framework to also ask Which virtue do I need to pay more attention to in order to develop as a manager? Do I practice enough justice in my interactions with subordinates? Have I been courageous in my dealings with upper management when advocating for my staff? Am I adequately temperate in my work aspirations? This approach to incorporate an ethical dimension within students professional identity is welcome given the competing complexities and demands of business life, and may help to address Parks (1998) concern with business students integrating ethical issues with other business frameworks. Unfortunately, current business ethics courses may be perceived as unrelated to the rest of what students are taught in business schools if they do not define a set of ethical responsibilities and practices in conjunction with other functional and role requirements of management proper. As a result, when students come to fill managerial positions, they may be left virtually point-of-viewless regarding their responsibilities as managers vis-a-vis ethical issues, and have a constrained ability to define managerial success. ARISTOTLES VIRTUES AND MANAGEMENT THOUGHT 571 Research Question #2 In examining our second research question, we found a relatively high level of inter-rater reliability across student group categorizations of the virtues, comparable to the categorizations for the two more mainstream views of management. Beyond providing additional empirical support to continue to develop a virtue theory of management, this finding also draws our attention to further study what the key management virtues are and how we should describe them. In particular, partially in response to readers who might be surprised at the high incidence of virtuous behavior observed in our managers (e. g. , Maclntyre, 1981), our exploratory study begs future research to more closely examine the content of what the students were observing to be virtuous behavior. The consistent student observations are striking because operationalizing the virtues is not an easy task. For example, a person can act fairly without manifesting the virtue of justice if he does so without promptitude and pleasure (Pieper, 1965) and, similarly, performing a courageous act does not make a person courageous. In this light, the consistency of observations in our study should serve to encourage researchers who focus on specifying which virtues are most important for contemporary managers, because it lessens their need to limit or compromise their choice to easy-to-operationalize virtues. In any case, we suggest that future research use multiple method research designs to study virtues. For example, researchers could collect self-report data alongside videotapes, where managers are asked to describe, say, what prompted them to act fairly in a given situation. Similarly, researchers may interview subordinates and colleagues with whom focal managers interact. There may also be merit in developing a grounded theory of virtuous management, and analyzing observers classifications. As the research stream matures, there is potential for experimental designs and even survey instrument research. In short, empirical research within a virtue theory perspective has the potential to utilize and draw from the same methods and design strategies that have proven useful for other theoretical points of view. Research Question #5 The answer to the third research question provides a final point of departure for future research. For example, what do the positive correlations between practical wisdom and planning, practical wisdom and interpersonal roles, and the negative correlation between wisdom and controlling suggest? Is the wise manager one who controls less and pays more attention to issues of planning and interpersonal relations? Or, do these correlations reflect a bias in students towards the rightness of more participatory management styles that have become increasingly in vogue? Another question arising from the correlational analysis is the meaning of the negative association between justice and practical wisdom and justice and the interpersonal roles. Does the manager who displays more 572 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY practical wisdom do so at a cost to justice as we have operationalized them? Further, does the negative correlation between justice and the interpersonal role (and the almost-statistically-significant positive correlation between justice and controlling) indicate that students regard exhibiting the interpersonal role as somehow unjust and manipulative and not concerned with giving employees their due? Do managers who act justly perhaps do so at a cost to interpersonal relationships (e. g. , perhaps students perceived as just managers who enforce rules without adequate regard to unique personal needs)? The negative correlation between justice and courage draws further attention to issues around managerial manipulation, if students viewed managers ability to act unjust as something that takes courage. Alternatively, perhaps students see as courageous managers who protect their employees, even if this is not just toward shareholders. Along a different line, perhaps future research should examine the complementarity of virtues among managerial teams. Following Nadler and Tushmans (1990) argument that management teams should have leaders with complementary skills, so also the managers in our study may have complementary virtues. Thus, for example, one manager may be wiser while another more just. Such an approach leads to fascinating opportunities to examine the interplay between these virtues across managers. Finally, a comment on a non-finding in the correlational analysis. What about self-control? Is the lack of significant relationships with other categories, and the relatively low frequency of temperate behavior observed, an artifact of the methodology as might be the case if, for example, self-control is the least amenable to direct observation? Future research might find higher levels of self-control through self-reports asking managers about their feelings and stress levels during particular interactions. Similarly, one might design experiments using confederates to create highly frustrating interpersonal scenarios to assess the level of self-control displayed by subjects. These types of questions are indicative of potentially important directions in future research. Alternatively, perhaps our data suggest that future researchers should consider replacing self-control as a primary virtue for managers. Recall that the primary focus of our paper was to develop empirical support for the development of a virtual theory to conceptualize and understand management; we do not contend that the four virtues we have used here are necessarily the best or most appropriate. Our findings do demonstrate the merit in developing a virtue theory of management, and we now invite others to join us in the task of deciding which are the most important virtues for contemporary managers, a task which requires specifying its undergirding moral point of view (Frankena, 1973). Conclusion Our exploratory study provides welcome empirical support.

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