Why Conscience Is an Evolutionary Advantage
Paul R. Lawrence is a Professor Emeritus of Harvard Business School, where he served nine years as chairman of the Organizational Behavior area and also as chairman of both the MBA and AMP programs. His research, published in 25 books and numerous articles, has dealt with the human aspects of management, organizational change, organization design, human nature, and leadership. His 1967 book, Organization and Environment (written with Professor Jay Lorsch), added "contingency theory" to the vocabulary of students of organizational behavior. Recently he has, with others, made a comparative study of Soviet management practices that was published in 1990 as Behind the Factory Walls: Decision Making in Soviet and U.S. Enterprises.
Question: Where does conscience fit into Renewed Darwinian theory?
Paul Lawrence: Well, one of the biggest insights, I think probably the biggest insight I got from studying Darwin in his second, neglected book, was what he had to say about conscience. Let me just quote a couple of sentences directly from Darwin’s book that really staggered me with their profound implications.
He said that: "Any creature, whatsoever, that has the social instincts comparable to those of humans and the intellectual capacities close to those of humans would inevitably develop a moral sense of conscience."
Now, what he’s saying here is that if humans—any creature—had the drive to bond, a social instinct, and a drive to intellectual drives like comprehend, would have the conscience to help them fulfill those two drives because without conscience you could not fulfill those two drives. And what does he mean by conscience? Let’s think of it in four-drive terms. We’ve all heard of the "Golden Rule": Do unto other as you would have... you would do unto them. But, we don’t quite sure what that means. But with four drives, we could say, I’ve got the four drives in my brain and that tells me what I’m driving for, my motives. But the other person I’m talking has the same ones. And if I deal with them, if I want to be a trusted friend who had worked with closely and engaged with in a truthful way, I’ve got to help them fulfill their four drives and then we can bond, really.
So it’s a way to bond. And what you have to do is practice things that we all do. You know, help them to acquire, well help them develop their competencies to be productive. Help them develop their competencies.
The drive to bond; well, you have to treat them honestly, and not lie to them, and keep your promises, and not break your promises. The drive to comprehend; again, you have to tell them the truth and not falsehoods, not mislead them with bad information. Drive to defend; well going... when the going gets tough you are there to back them up. You are there to help them defend their properties and their own body. Those are the obvious ways you have to do if you want to have strong long-term relationships and they fall correctly out of the theory of human behavior. And they also provide you with a way to how you should act as a leader if you want to build the kind of bonds that will... that people will turn to you for your leadership help because you are helping them acquire and develop those basic drives of themselves.
So it ties together the theory of behavior and the theory of leadership around practicing the conscientious way of dealing with other people according to some obvious rules that any one of us can deduce from Darwin’s statements. And that’s a bridge to leadership. And what we’re talking about now is good leadership, which I equate in this book with moral leadership. Good, moral leadership is what good leadership is. And it’s distinct from bad leadership practiced by people... most of all people without a conscience who simply do not have any fellow feeling. They do not know what compassion is, they do not know what empathy is, they do not know even what love is. That is something they are never going to experience in their life because they don’t have that feature in their brain when they are born.
Question: Are leaders born or made?
We all have the potential to be leaders because we have these brains that judge situations in terms of these four basic criteria and try to figure out how do we respond to fulfill those drives for ourselves. And if we’re successful in doing that, people will begin to pay attention to us and say, “Well, this person seems to know where they are going, they seem to be coping very well in the world, I guess we ought to pay attention and maybe follow their example and they could lead us into the future in a more successful way. So, leadership grows out of one's own success in leading one's own life. And through that process we gain influence over other people as they follow the leader. And so you can see what a tight relationship there is between this sort of human behavior and the process of leading one's self and others.
I think that another way to think about leadership is that, of course, you’re born with it, you have that kind of a brain, but the leadership potential in all of us is never going to really show itself unless we refine it, practice it, and train our minds to think this way and then we can be much more effective in leading ourselves and leading others. And we have to acquire that skill through training and through experience, through doing it. Through doing the job and proving that we can come up with four-drive solutions to four-drive problems, is one way to put it. And we have to find those solutions and lead others to follow them and that will... and what we’re doing there is not only fulfilling our own drives, we’re helping them fulfill their drives and that is what attaches them to us as useful followers.
Recorded on July 28, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
According to Renewed Darwinian theory, conscience is necessary for balancing man’s four basic drives as well as leading effectively.
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