09 Mar 2019 19:26 IST

Moral rules are universal, not culture-specific

Any aspiring leader should resist the urge to overlook moral guidelines as a short-cut to success

A recent study by anthropologists at the University of Oxford has compiled a list of a few universally common rules of morality. This has become newsworthy and is of interest mainly because the earlier view was that moral rules and guidelines were very culture-specific. This thought is supported by the very definition of morality, which is explained as principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, or good and bad behaviour. The Cambridge dictionary’s definition of morality is: “a set of personal or social standards for good or bad behaviour and character”.

As is evident from the definition, morality was always considered to be varying and the definition of good or bad was seen as culture-specific or society-specific.

Interestingly, the study looked at morality in the theory/ context of “morality-as-cooperation”. Within this framework, morality is defined as consisting of a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. In simpler terms, it translates to the same as the basic definition found in any dictionary.

Cornerstone of professional life

The relevance of this to corporate life is obvious and, clearly, the aspect of co-operation is a cornerstone for corporates, as also professional success. Therefore, this is very important to you, as future management professionals.

The universally common moral rules that have stood the test of time across cultures can be broadly defined as: family focus and values, loyalty to the group, demonstrate reciprocal behaviour, be brave, respect all, be fair, defer to authority, and respect one another’s property.

Although these might seem straightforward and, to some extent, stating the obvious, that is not the case. It is very easy to lose sight of these moral guidelines, especially in this competitive world and amid the pressures of one’s day-to-day work and existence. The urge to overlook some, or even all, of these moral guidelines for an easy way out or a shortcut to results and success is an ever present temptation.

Three of these simple moral rules which are compromised the first and most easily is loyalty to one’s group, being respectful and being fair. Ironically, this compromise is often the result of trying to follow another moral rule, which is ‘defer to authority’.

Global relevance

In most cases, when a person complains about a boss or is unhappy in their work environment, it is invariably linked to the compromise one has to make on one of these moral rules. Back-stabbing, one-upmanship, politics, turf wars, and so on, are all linked to these moral rules not being followed. On the other hand, great organisations, bosses and leaders are always seen to adhere to and follow these moral rules, at least in most of the instances.

Therefore, any aspiring leader should develop the habit of always following these moral rules without fail. This becomes all the more important in today’s context of global working teams and cross-cultural colleagues.

This is something to always keep in mind and practise on a day-to-day basis.