Tips for being a better boss—from philosophy

Tips for being a better boss—from philosophy

Available in Audiobook  at:

Available in Paperback, Hardcover and eBook  at:
Buy How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business from Amazon

Buy How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business from Rowman & Littlefield

Buy How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business from iBookstore

Buy How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business from Indigo Chapters

Buy How to be Profitable and Moral: A Rational Egoist Approach to Business from Barnes & Noble


At the end of each semester, students give anonymous feedback on my business ethics course. Most of it is appreciative of getting tools for being a better manager: a consistent set of rational moral principles. But every now and then there are (often the more ‘mature’) students who don’t see the benefit of understanding and applying such principles. They write comments like: “Too much time spent on philosophy/principles; we just need practical tips on how to be better managers.”

It is too bad for such students: they fail to benefit from the tremendous advantage that rational philosophical—particularly, moral—principles would give them. Their pragmatist mindset of “skip the philosophy; just give me the practical tips” hinders them from becoming better managers.

The problem with laundry lists of practical tips, or lessons from case discussions, is that while they give helpful advice—“Give regular feedback”, “Set a good example”, “Use simple, powerful words, such as ‘please, thank you, good job, etc.”—they are hard to remember, particularly when there are many long lists. Yet, many management textbooks provide such lists.

Our minds are not very good at remembering long lists of concrete advice. That is why everyone, including managers, needs philosophy—reality-based philosophy—that integrates knowledge into a limited number of abstract principles. Unlike long, concrete lists, such principles can be easily retained and applied to countless concrete situations. As Ayn Rand has explained, principles are fundamental generalizations that serve as guidelines in different areas, such as managing people.

We need principles even in the era of Google searches and YouTube demos. Once you grasp a principle such as rationality, you can apply it while thinking on your feet—when there is no time to search the internet and sift through results. Besides, online advice is not necessarily valid, unlike principles based on observing facts.

Rationality is the primary moral virtue (principle) induced by Ayn Rand. It tells us to use reason (observation and logic) as the only guide in decision making and action. Other moral principles Rand derived from rationality—highly relevant to being a good boss—are justice and integrity.

  • Rationality is the cornerstone of managing people well. It reminds us to discover the relevant facts, by asking questions and listening, before making decisions and acting on them.

For example, did an employee really do what someone else says he did? Or what was the reason work didn’t get done: lack of motivation or lack of training? Actions of a boss must depend on the answers—answers that they can verify as true, first-hand.

As Rand pointed out, justice applies to managers themselves also: they should only take what they have earned, such as credit only for their own work, and responsibility for their mistakes.

Justice applied to treatment of employees yields win-win outcomes: employees know what to expect and are motivated to be productive. By getting the employees’ input for achieving the organization’s or the department’s goals, the managers can perform their jobs better also.

Applying these three principles (and a few others) helps make managers more effective and their employees productive and committed. These principles are abstract, held in the mind by just three words, yet they make memorizing or googling long lists of ‘practical’ tips unnecessary. Understanding the principles well helps in applying them to any situation by identifying the practical actions the situation requires.

Nothing is more practical than rational philosophy—knowledge integrated into consistent principles. Anyone who wants to be a better boss may want to learn more about how rational moral principles apply in business by reading How to be profitable and moral and its original inspiration: Ayn Rand’s fiction and non-fiction writings.

Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

Originally posted 17 July 2017.

Share this:


Share this:

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,379 other subscribers

How to help workers flourish

Labor Day celebrates labor unions as the protectors of workers against exploitation by “greedy” capitalists—corporations that allegedly would lock up workers in inhumane conditions in

Read More »

2 Responses

  1. Your challenge is to make the complete connection from principle to specific action and preferably back again.

    Sometimes it is best to start with a specific case and ask why that worked or failed, then go up to a conclusion about principles. People need concrete examples..

    The world of business, and other organizations, is full of buzzwords and shallowness – indeed there is a book titled “Fad Sufing in the Boardroom’.

    Decades ago a popular inspirational speaker had many good ideas but advised manipulation. the question for him is “Do you personally like being manipulated?”

    BBandT Bank’s ‘culture’ booklet is a good resource

    1. Thank you, Keith, for your comments.Yes, principles are formed from concrete observations and examples, but one has to do the work of integrating observations into principles, and then applying them to new concrete situations.

      You are also correct about grasping principles that others have formed: they don’t “stick” if one only thinks about them in abstract. Principles can only be understood and retained when they are explained with concrete examples, such as cases and scenarios instructors use in classes.

Leave a Reply

Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada.

She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada.

Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.

%d bloggers like this: