Morality Matters In Business Success

We’ve always believed in taking the high road and attempting to behave in line with the best ethical standard we are capable of and also strive to identify leaders and partners that exhibit similar characteristics.  We believe this increases both our, and our portfolio companies’, probability of success over time.  It also hopefully lowers the probability of us blowing ourselves up over some selfish, sleazy, or illegal activity.  A recent article in the Mind issue of Scientific American by Taya Cohen points to recent research which is beginning to prove this out empirically.

The article, titled The Morality Factor, points to emerging research results which are indicating that a personality attribute roughly equivalent to “honesty-humility” correlates with stronger leadership abilities and better achievement of results from teams.  Interestingly, the article also points out that research has yet to find a correlation between leadership effectiveness and GMAT scores.  Certainly, intellect can be an important factor in business success, but there appears to be a stronger leadership effectiveness correlation to something called “guilt proneness” – that is, one’s ability to factor into their actions whether they might feel bad later about doing something they are about to do – even if no one ever finds out.  The point?  Intellect alone does not predict that someone will be an ethical leader, one who feels responsibility for others (i.e. peers, direct reports, investors, other stakeholders, etc.).  In fact, I would argue in my experience it is precisely the incredibly bright person with no moral compass who should be feared — and weeded out — the most.