Having strong values ​​is essential for business success—sustainability requires empathy: Arthur C. Brooks

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Arthur C. Brooks teaches management practices and leadership at Harvard Business School. Speaking to Srijana Mitra Das, he explains why ethics are key to creating real value in business:

Q. What is the core of your research?

A. I work on the science of happiness – it is the study of human well-being that I research as a social science, psychology and philosophy.

Q. How important are the values ​​you write about, such as compassion and a sense of responsibility, to success in business?

A. Human values ​​are essential to any business in which we engage. Business is just another way we express ourselves and interact with each other – there is no difference between business and any other kind of interaction. Some people think that being greedy or unkind is necessary for business success, but the opposite is true. The more you practice good values ​​and are in touch with your soul, the more successful you will be.

Q. Should business leaders also instill value systems in their employees? Would that be productive or intrusive?

A. I frequently talk to business leaders about this — we’ve seen how leaders who are reluctant to talk about personal values ​​find that their employees don’t like their jobs very much. The more people can get down to business, the happier they will be, and central to that is being able to express your values. This is sometimes confused with politics – American CEOs often take sides on political issues. I think that’s a mistake because on these issues, people’s values ​​differ greatly. Instead, business leaders should talk about shared values ​​like kindness, respect and family. If they discuss it openly and encourage their teams to do so, their employees are happier, more productive and more loyal.

Dell, for example, is a company with very high morale. People love working there – one reason is that the company takes happiness seriously. One approach they use to foster this is to discuss sustainable values, starting with Michael Dell, their CEO.

Q. Traditional capitalism is defined by making rational choices — how do you define what you call “democratic capitalism”?

A. Capitalism is just a machine. It doesn’t work well when not used with good values. When people treat each other with respect and we can create a democratic marketplace of ideas, where people behave honestly and positively with each other, then capitalism is the best system – it thrives on trust and responsibility. But when people don’t have those values, capitalism doesn’t work well. When I speak of the morality of democratic capitalism, I speak of the values ​​of the people who practice the system. A car itself is not moral or immoral – what matters is the morality of the person driving it and whether they treat other people on the road with kindness and respect. This leads to much better traffic. It is the same with capitalism.

It is important to note that the world is much better off today than it has ever been before. Over the years, I have seen huge economic changes in India, from reducing poverty to expanding opportunity and growing middle class. India’s growth is driven by both its vibrant democracy and a deep spirituality where people are inspired by love of the divine and their relationship with other beings. For all economies, human morality comes first – then market systems can make everything better.

Q. You write that successful businessmen should ideally “hide from the spotlight” – why?

A. Business leaders should focus on others instead of getting other people to focus on them. It’s problematic that in today’s business and politics, the real product of many people is themselves – they want to be an idol of the world. All ancient traditions say that the main idols in life are money, power, pleasure and fame. However, when you focus on these, you cannot create real value. It comes from spirituality, family ties, friendship and service to others. Being in the spotlight in and of itself is neither good nor bad – the question is: are you using that spotlight for your ego or for good?

Q. Can you tell us about your research on Gross National Happiness (GNH) in an era that measures Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?

A. The idea of ​​BNB came of course from Bhutan, which wanted to measure the happiness of its society in relation to its GDP — I think it is crucial to measure the well-being of everyone, including those who are not. not yet born. The biggest problem we have today, which manifests itself in crises like climate change, is that too many people believe there is no future beyond them and live on the basis of this view. To change this, we must believe in the links that unite all living beings. Often people in developed Western economies, for example, think that we should decarbonize the world entirely now, but from my experiences in India I know how much less advantaged groups need energy to grow in their life. If we thought of ourselves as a global community, where we empathize and help each other, we could reach compromises to build sustainability – and Gross National Happiness.

Opinions expressed are personal

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