Mitchell J. Neubert is a Professor of Management and the Chavanne Chair of Christian Ethics in Business at the Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University.
I applaud Wong, Baker, and Franz for drawing attention to the need for business professors in Christian colleges and universities to examine their approach to educating students. It also is clear that a purely rational approach is insufficient for the noble task of forming the minds and hearts of students. I cheerfully concur on this point and on many of the specific suggestions they offer for practice. However, on occasion it seemed as though the authors were setting fire to a “rational” straw man without noting the integration of head and heart in formation. In my response, I would like to offer a bit of balance to their position, tempering their position by discussing the merits of rational or cognitive approaches to formation. Whereas secular universities may be keen to emphasize rationality in formation, Christian universities may be reluctant to embrace approaches that rely upon what can be derived and verified from “earthly things.”1 Yet, in a Christian university the development of the life of the mind can be broader and richer by including “earthly things” rightfully subordinated to “things above.”2 My suggestions here will be limited to a few examples of cognitive approaches from my own teaching that I hope will contribute to a Christian rationality that facilitates the formation of virtue.
It is increasingly easy to affirm the importance of heart or emotion in explaining or promoting behavioral change. Research is accumulating that demonstrates that emotion, its use, and its regulation, are significant predictors of leadership success, team functioning, and even organizational competitiveness.3 However, the importance of connection between mind and heart appears attenuated in Wong, Baker, and Franz’s approach to promoting virtue. In my own research, team members’ judgments were related to emotional responses that explained how they would treat a “free-rider” within their team.4 As such, I agree we need to supplement our pedagogy to move beyond the accumulation of knowledge and skills of rational calculation, but we must be careful not to discount the important role cognition has in contributing to emotions and virtuous behavior. Cognitive processing both informs and brings light to matters of the heart, even if it does not fully explain the mysterious depths of the heart.
Proverbs 20:5 states that “the purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” If the purposes or mysteries of the heart can be drawn out by insight, then certainly there is a critical role for equipping students with the cognitive tools that will help in understanding and shaping the hearts of students. I would like to offer two suggestions that are admittedly imperfect and certainly insufficient in themselves for shaping character, but each may offer a seed of an idea that might grow into efficacious practices.
My first suggestion is to help students label and measure virtuous behavior. Some readers may recoil at this suggestion as being a positivist approach that limits the elegance and complexity of character. Yes, it may have a deleterious effect if, in measuring or assessing virtuous behavior, we claim to have identified all that is virtuous. For the moment, let us agree that measurement is insufficient to capture virtue fully, but consider the possibility that it may offer distinct value. By giving virtues embodiment in specific and tangible descriptions of behaviors we are making salient a portion of a picture that is admittedly broader and deeper. It also provides us with a tangible standard for evaluation or comparison. For example, if we can agree that one example of just behavior is to distribute outcomes fairly based on contributions or inputs, this is a tangible manifestation of just behavior that can serve as a referent for assessing our behavior. The self-awareness promoted by establishing behavior standards and attempting to measure one’s behavior against those standards mirrors the cognitive processes associated with observing role models, but perhaps with more precision. Control theory indicates that this comparison of current behavior to a specific virtuous behavioral standard may contribute to formation by creating an awareness of a gap between current and aspirant behavior. This gap motivates corrective action to reduce the behavioral discrepancy and our associated feeling of cognitive dissonance from not acting consistent with our virtuous aspirations.5
In a forthcoming book, I describe measures of seven primary virtues. The virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, courage, faith, love, and hope are described as primary not because they describe everything that is virtuous, but instead they are primary because a great many virtuous characteristics are associated with or rooted in these virtues.6 In a multi-stage development process involving experts generating items and including analysis of over a thousand behavioral ratings of organizational leaders, a scale was developed and found to be a reliable and a reasonable representation of virtuous character.7 Although other virtues scales exist,8 a strength of this scale is its incorporation of the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) with the four cardinal virtues (prudence, temperance, justice, and courage), all of which are contextualized to the workplace.
A second proposal is based on my belief that conceptual models or theories are essential for students to think critically in evaluating past behavior and for providing guidance in developing new behaviors. Admittedly, character can be taught and caught through observing the actions of a virtuous person who over an extended time provides a role model that can be emulated. This is ideal, but it is often not practical given the limited exposure students have to the behaviors of even the most accessible role models. I agree with Wong et al.’s suggestion to enhance mentoring opportunities but in addition to facilitating relationships with virtuous role models, I believe we should develop or form in students the capacity to identify and think critically about the virtue or vice of the role models they observe. These cognitive models or lenses by which a student can perceive the world also help them to “imagine” behavior not seen or observed in others.
Consistent with this belief Bruno Dyck and I have written two textbooks with a distinctive approach intended to stimulate critical thinking and promote virtuous behavior.9 These books emerged in response to the concern voiced in our field that presenting only one approach to management – based on a materialist-individualist moral-point-of-view we describe as “Conventional” or “Mainstream” – has perpetuated this view in practice.10 Over a century ago, Max Weber called for the development of alternative theories to overcome the shortcomings of an increasingly narrow materialist-individualist approach to organizations.11 In Weberian language, the promotion of a materialist-individualist “substantive rationality” has given rise to a narrow “formal rationality” evident in management practice that has organizational members entrapped in an “iron cage.” Left without a clear alternative, organizational members will practice this rationality without engaging in moral contemplation.12 An escape from this iron cage requires the development of another “substantive rationality” in order to promote different practices.
In our textbooks, we present an alternative approach – explicitly based in virtue theory, we describe as “Sustainable” or “Multistream” – that integrates aspects of stakeholder theory and other theories associated with corporate social responsibility and citizenship, servant leadership, positive organizational behavior, and even theology. We demonstrate that a virtue-based moral-point-of-view has and can lead to distinct theory and practices in organizations. Learning two approaches promotes critical thinking and spurs moral imagination in how a person might act, even in the absence of an observable role model. In our experience these two competing types also provide students with a language to discuss current practices, describe new practices, and collaboratively engage in formulating a new and coherent formal rationality.
It may be that our cognitive approach to formation is shaped to a degree by Bruno’s teaching at a secular university and my teaching at a university that requires Christian commitment from its faculty but does not require the same from students or constituents. Our intention was to create a virtue-based framework for critical thinking that would be appropriate for all students, whether secular or Christian or from other faith traditions. In so doing, we also hope to be contributing to formation in students that allows for conversation that spans secular and spiritual perspectives.
In sum, I believe formation involves engaging both the mind and the heart, each in moderation. Formation is a holistic process. As such, I am not offering points of contention but points that complement the work of Wong, Baker, and Franz. Collectively, we agree that professors can contribute to meaningful formation, and I am hopeful that exchanges such as these will help sharpen and equip us to fulfill this noble charge.
Cite this article
- Colossians 3:1-2.
- Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013).
- C. I. C. Farh, Myeong-Gu Seo, & Paul E. Tesluk, “Emotional Intelligence, Teamwork Effectiveness, and Job Performance: The Moderating Role of Job Context,” Journal of Applied Psychology 97.4 (2012): 890; Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence (New York: Random House LLC, 2006); Ernest H. O’Boyle, Ronald H. Humphrey, Jeffrey M. Pollack, Thomas H. Hawver, & Paul A. Story, “The Relation Between Emotional Intelligence and Job Performance: A Meta-analysis,” Journal of Organizational Behavior 32.5 (2011): 788-818.
- Simon Taggar & Mitchell J. Neubert, “A Cognitive (Attributions)-Emotion Model of Observer Reactions to Free-riding Poor Performers,” Journal of Business and Psychology 22.3 (2008): 167-177.
- Charles S. Carver & Michael F. Scheier, “Control Theory: A Useful Conceptual Framework for Personality–Social, Clinical, and Health Psychology,” Psychological Bulletin 92.1 (1982): 111-135.
- Dierdre McCloskey, “Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists,” History of Political Economy 40.1 (2008): 43-71.
- Mitchell J. Neubert, “Teaching and Training Virtues: Behavioral Measurement and Pedagogical Approaches,” in The Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business and Management (Forthcoming).
- For example, see Christopher Peterson & Martin Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004); Jessica Shryack, Michael F. Steger, Robert F. Krueger, & Christopher S. Kallie, “The Structure of Virtue: An Empirical Investigation of the Dimensionality of the Virtues in Action Inventory of Strengths,” Personality and Individual Differences 48.6 (2010): 714-719.
- Bruno Dyck & Mitchell J. Neubert, Management: Current Practices and New Directions (Boston, MA: Cengage/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2010); Mitchell J. Neubert & Bruno Dyck, Organizational Behavior (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2014).
- Fabrizio Ferraro, Jeffrey Pfeffer, & Robert I. Sutton, “Economic Language and Assumptions: How Theories can Become Self-fulfilling,” Academy of Management Review 30.1 (2005): 8-24; Sumantra Ghoshal, “Bad Management Theories are Destroying Good Management Practices,” Academy of Management Learning & Education 4.1 (2005): 75-91.
- Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner’s, 1958, original 1904).
- Alasdair Maclntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).