Missing, in general, from most books in the still-emerging “good business” genre is a recognition of such harsh facts of business life as the managerial necessity to make painful trade-offs between competing claims of stakeholders, for example, those of environmentalists on one side and employees on the other. Too many sustainability authors deal with such complex, unpleasant issues simply by ignoring them, but, fortunately, they don’t all have their heads in the clouds. There’s no eco gee-whiz and no promises of a utopia in which capitalists all get rich simply by being virtuous in any of the best books on ethics and aspirations this year. I found them to be the most inspiring of the current lot because they demonstrate that there are practical, better ways to manage, even given the real-world constraints of capitalism as it is and the tough, daily slog that is the salient fact of organizational life.
- James O’Toole is the Daniels Distinguished Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business and coauthor, with Warren Bennis and Daniel Goleman, of Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor (Jossey-Bass, 2008).