Over the past 18 years, I have taken classes, studied and read recommended books about human and organizational behavior in an effort to learn about this complex discipline called leadership. The search engine on leadership has many drop-down boxes defining the term and how best to apply it across a broad spectrum. Nonetheless, in all of the literature on leadership there is one common thread that appears throughout the discourse, and that is trust. So, if trust is the foundation of exemplary leadership, why do we fail to do what’s right? Why do we rationalize our behavior? Why do we weigh the consequences before we make an ethical decision? The book, “Blind Spots,” addresses these inconsistencies and what we can do about it.
When confronted with an ethical dilemma, most of us like to think we would stand up for our principles. But we are not as ethical as we think. In “Blind Spots,” the authors examine ways we overestimate our ability to do what is right and how we act unethically without meaning to. From the corruption at Enron and in the tobacco industry, to the defective Ford Pinto, the downfall of Bernard Madoff and the Challenger space shuttle, ethical failures are investigated in the business world and beyond. When we look at a problem, how do we view it? Is it an ethical question, or is it a business issue? Many times we don’t see the moral issue because of the overriding pressures of a social group or economics. Moreover, the authors illustrate how we can become more ethical, bridging the gap between who we are and who we want to be.
Explaining why traditional approaches to ethics doesn’t work, the book considers how ‘blind spots’ like ethical fading — the removal of ethics from the decision-making process — have led to tragedies and scandals such as the space shuttle disaster, steroid use in Major League Baseball, the crash in the financial markets and the energy crisis.
Bazerman and Tenbrunsel explain how ethical standards shift, how we fail to notice and act on the unethical behaviors of others and how compliance initiatives can promote unethical behavior. They argue that scandals will continue to emerge unless such approaches take into account the psychology of individuals faced with right-right decisions, which are ethical dilemmas, and right-wrong decisions which are moral temptations. Distinguishing our ‘should self’ (the person who knows what is correct) from our ‘want self’ (the person who ends up making decisions), the authors point out ethical sinkholes that create questionable actions.
I encourage you to visit the website ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu and explore the Behavioral Ethics link. This site addresses many of the issues discussed in the book.
The book “Blind Spots” is an easy read, well written, with captivating research. It is a little more than unsettling, and it should make you reconsider most of, or at least some of, your beliefs.
“This fascinating book holds up a desperately needed mirror that objectively reveals a reflection we might not want to see,” saidStephen R. Covey, educator and author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. “Yet through experienced guidance and genuine input, Bazerman and Tenbrunsel offer solutions that can powerfully change the way we do business.”