Dignity, Wisdom, and Tomorrow's Ethical Business Leader

AuthorSandra Waddock,Donna Hicks
Published date01 September 2016
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/basr.12094
Date01 September 2016
Dignity, Wisdom,
and Tomorrow’s Ethical
Business Leader
DONNA HICKS AND SANDRA WADDOCK
ABSTRACT
This article examines the role wisdom and dignity play in
developing ethical business leaders, or what we call shaman-
ic leaders, for the twenty-first century. We define wisdom as
the integration of moral imagination (the good), systems
understanding (the true), and aesthetic sensibility (the beau-
tiful) into decisions, actions, and practices in the service of a
better world. Dignity is our inherent value, worth, and vul-
nerability, a core aspect of humanity that each of us is born
with. The challenges of developing shamanic leaders, i.e.,
individuals who evidence the shamanic attributes of healing,
connecting, and sensemaking, are discussed, including how
tothinkaboutandembodywisdom,andthelearningthatis
required to understand and lead with dignity. We argue that
dignity and wisdom can be learned and provide the reader
with insights into what is required to promote an inclusive
and integrated culture where human flourishing and well-
being are at the core of ethical leadership.
Donna Hicks is Associate Professor at Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard
University. E-mail: dhicks@wcfia.harvard.edu. Sandra Waddock is Galligan Chair of Strategy,
Carroll School Scholar of Corporate Responsibility, and Professor of Management, Carroll
School of Management. E-mail: waddock@bc.edu.
V
C2016 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University. Published by
Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK.
Business and Society Review 121:3 447–462
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U
buntu, the African cultural idea that “I am because we are”
is central to understanding what it means to be human in
many cultures. This concept inherently recognizes the
importance of the whole community and our relationships to each
other, as well as the individual. The idea of ubuntu is also a key to
understanding both wisdom and dignity as core aspects of what it
means to be an ethical leader today in business and, importantly,
tomorrow, whether that leadership takes place in a business or
some other context. We live in a world fraught with ecological and
social problems, political systems that are out of whack with demo-
cratic imperatives, organizations that demean and dehumanize
many of their employees, and an economic perspective that places
material wealth and financial interests over social, ecological, and
human interests. Such a system devalues what it means to be
human, compromising the inherent dignity and worth of people
who are not at the top, not to mention devaluing the worth of non-
human living beings, including the Earth itself, viewed as the living
system Gaia (see Lovelock, 2000).
This world cries out for wise and ethical leadership, leadership
that recognizes and honors the dignity of all living beings and par-
ticularly humans, and makes decisions, including or perhaps espe-
cially in business, in the interest of the whole, including the planet
and its ability to support human civilization. Wise leaders recog-
nize the reality that our planet is small and fragile enough that the
“we” of Ubuntu, that is, all of us wherever we are situated, need to
work together if needed changes are to be made. Necessary
changes require first of all wisdom and, importantly, that others
within the system be treated with the dignity that all humans and
other living beings deserve as a birthright, along with the courage
to act in the face of established interests and pressures for busi-
ness as usual. As with Ubuntu, we focus on ancient as well as mod-
ern traditions, in particular, the idea of the wise leader as shaman,
to resurrect an ancient paradigm and bring forward much-needed
healing in all of our communities.
There is a sense in which wise leaders undertake the role of the
shaman. Shamans are the medicine men and women in traditional
cultures. Shamans in both traditional cultures and today are
healers, connectors, and sensemakers (Egri and Frost, 1994; Frost
and Egri 1994; Waddock 2015), attributes that we believe are
448 BUSINESS AND SOCIETY REVIEW

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