Bringing the Virtue of Honor to Management

Management has become a dirty word.

It’s ubiquitous with bureaucracy. It’s an art becoming devoid of meaning. It’s been bandied about in ethics scandals and cloaked under the guise of “doing what’s right.”

Yet while managers have done their fair share to mess up the effectiveness of management, it still remains one of our great inventions. To be fair, it continues to positively evolve in response to the times. And there are great men and women who advance the art and science of management relevant to today’s times.

Management’s effectiveness, however, is taking a beating these days. Stalled out in too many organizations are good men and women seemingly paralyzed to act with intentions to do right by employees in order to help the organization achieve its goals. To help employees achieve their goals. To improve the communities in which they exist.

Management needs a renaissance. It needs new life breathed into it. The virtue of honor could help bring management into the 21st century. The principles of honor imbued into how we manage and lead could offset the destruction from command-and-control styles that have arguably no room in today’s organizations.

Management has become a dirty word. It’s ubiquitous with bureaucracy. It’s an art becoming devoid of meaning.


Look up the definition of altruism and you’ll learn that it’s a selfless regard for others’ wellbeing. Corporate ethic scandals have become hackneyed news stories. Honorable managers act to improve the workplace, communities, society… even maligned segments of the population… because they have access to people and resources that can make the difference.


The questionable bonuses doled out to senior managers for underwhelming results destroys trust and tarnishes management and leadership disciplines. Honor instructs us to want what’s best for the team, the organization, for society over individual needs.

Honor in being a manager upholds an important belief that people have the right to be respected and given the opportunities to apply their talents to tackle organizational and even societal issues.

To be a manager of honor requires the constant pursuit of having a good character.

Management needs a renaissance. It needs new life breathed into it. The virtue of honor could help bring management into the 21st century.


A person with a good character acts with integrity, is ethical and relies upon and summons direction from one’s values and leverages them unwaveringly.


A manager who is principled habitually acts in an upstanding manner. Whether giving credit to staff for excellent work or refraining from petty turf wars that only reinforce fiefdoms and silos, a principled manager is always building the traits of good character.

Why does any of this matter?

The rate at which we are depleting our employees, misusing the power afforded to us as managers, and greedily pursuing business opportunities that benefit only a few is not sustainable.

On this Memorial Day, while we pay tribute to those who have fought wars for our country, displaying honor up to their deaths, we can learn from such brave soldiers. This leaves perhaps the most compelling reason to bring honor to management – fighting for what’s right. Imagine if we had more managers willing to do what’s right even if it meant the death of their job or career.

That would be honorable.

Image credit: rudall30 / 123RF Stock Photo

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of ExchangeGain. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Ron RicciCisco

    Shawn: You guys are always raising the core issues of leadership; well done. The honor of any person — leader, soldier, employee — starts with trust. Any leader is only as effective as their word is authentic. As a leader, the litmus test of honor is this: do you do what you say you are going to do? Anything less than 100% is the breeding ground for passive-aggressive behaviors. Trust is the well-spring of altruism, nobility, unselfishness. Keep up the good work.

  • Ben Simonton

    Being honorable is certainly the solution, but I believe that executives and managers first need to be motivated to change. The only motivation I believe powerful enough is to understand the huge amount damage done to their people by their use of the traditional command and control approach to managing people. This approach demotivates, demeans and demoralizes subordinates by treating them with great disrespect. These executives and managers certainly do not do unto others as they would have done to themselves.

  • TedCoine

    Shawn, this post inspires me, and I’m in the business of inspiring leaders to reach a higher level. I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to call you partner, and friend! I grew up reading about more idealistic times than our own: the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Medieval knights errant. Doing what’s right because it’s right… that is all the reason these heroes needed, and it’s why we remember them today, thousands of years later.

    What stories do we tell our children, what heroes (and what virtues) do we celebrate? I fear we’re in a too-practical time, when the stories we tell and the virtues we celebrate are maximizing stockholder returns, at least this quarter. As a world culture, we can do better. Thanks for showing the way!

  • Joan Macpherson

    This is right on the money! People are better at their jobs if they feel trusted and know they are valued. Management should endeavor to help employees discern their gifts. The only way to do this is for management to behave with honor. Managers should always set the example, not guide themselves by a different set of rules.

  • Robert Kay

    A good and brave post. One of my great teachers lives by the code “do the right thing, not the easy thing’. These honourable approaches bring clarity and integrigty to the job, which in turn make it more fulfilling.

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