For Aristotle, ethical and moral decisions, in part, relate to how we allocate our limited time among the activities of earning, learning, playing, being with friends and family, and participating in our community. John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Capital, seeks the Aristotelian allocation among friends, family, sports, and community service. “Unlike many busy executives,” writes Professor O’Toole, “Mr. Rogers will drop everything in the middle of a workweek to travel out of town to compete in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. When home in his native Chicago he serves on multiple boards of civic organizations.”
One of the most valuable pieces of managerial advice offered in Creating the Good Life has to do with Aristotle’s discussion of what it means to be a “virtuous boss.” Nearly every professional at some time in his or her career, he notes, can positively affect the quality of life of subordinates or co-workers. Aristotle, Professor O’Toole finds, inspires questions that all managers should ask themselves, such as: “To what extent do I measure my own performance as a manager/leader both in terms of my effectiveness in realizing economic goals and, equally, in terms of using my practical wisdom to create conditions under which my people can seek to fulfill their potential in the workplace?”
These books all argue that the ongoing struggle to lead a balanced life is getting harder. It’s not just that competition is more intense in the workplace, it’s that the modern workplace makes us feel its effects more intensely. But the more important message for corporations is that human-capital strategy can counter this trend only by seriously taking into account the effect of our mental, emotional, and physical state on our ability to achieve good results at work.
Some businesses will find ways to move beyond the focus on balance to help people integrate their work with their whole lives; most probably won’t. Indeed, the companies that stick with machine-based models of efficiency and effectiveness will continue to push down their costs and push up their stock prices by driving their employees as hard as they can — at least in the short term. But given the connection between employee happiness and productivity, it seems unlikely that companies led and run by people stretched to the max will succeed in maximizing returns in the long run. Alternatively, companies can heed Aristotle’s advice, as interpreted by Professor O’Toole. Like political leaders of ancient Greece, virtuous business leaders have a duty “to make ‘the good’ of the company commensurate with the good of its employees, in fact, to make the two mutually reinforcing.”
Ann Graham ([email protected]), a contributing editor to strategy+business, was this magazine’s deputy editor from 2000 to 2005. She is currently the editorial director and a coauthor of a forthcoming book (with Peter Senge and others) that applies organizational learning and systems theories to the creation of sustainable businesses. The book will be published by Doubleday in 2007.