Virtue of pride: policy of doing your best

According to conventional morality, pride is a sin. According to Aristotle, it is the crown of all virtues. While conventional morality condemns pride, it holds humility as a virtue. We should be humble and recognize that individual accomplishments are really due to collective efforts or divine grace and not feel false pride for what we have achieved. Aristotle, on the other hand, viewed pride as the essential motivator for developing a good character and living a good life.

I am with Aristotle: pride is an important virtue—because it helps us to be the best we can be and to lead happy, productive lives. Pride is not merely a feeling we have from having done a good job. As a virtue it means the policy of doing one’s best. (Tara Smith has an excellent discussion of this in her book, The Virtuous Egoist: Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics).

Doing one’s best is not a moral duty we owe others. Instead, we should strive to do our best because our thriving and happiness depend on it. Doing our best helps us achieve values—it is egoistic. We develop our skills and talents and enhance our careers and financial well-being, and we practice other virtues such as honesty and integrity that help us achieve values in all realms of life.

Ayn Rand saw the virtue of pride as moral ambitiousness, which motivates us to practice moral virtues, not for their own sake, but because they help us reach our values. Pride is a selfish virtue because it is based on an evaluation: “My life is important and I deserve to be happy.”

But all values, including self-esteem, must be earned. It can only be earned by striving to do our best—by adopting the policy of doing our best, in any endeavor we choose.

Doing our best means striving to apply the six other basic egoist virtues (rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness) in our daily life.  But since these virtues derive from rationality, Ayn Rand summarized pride as “unbreached rationality.” In other words, doing our best depends on adhering to reality and thinking logically to solve any problem we encounter and to reach goals we set for ourselves.

Pride matters also in business. It is a significant motivating force that is sometimes most visible in its absence. We have all had encounters with companies where employees, at least some, are not practising pride. This manifests in lack of customer service or poor products. Such employees do not care about their work or your experience as a customer; they are there to “serve time” and get their paycheck, and generally demonstrate incompetence and negligence.

Fortunately, there are also companies where employees go out of their way to provide great customer service. And many offer well-designed and well-made products. Such companies are also the ones that outperform their rivals in competitive markets. They and their employees exemplify the policy of doing one’s best.

Many companies (and people) fall somewhere in between the lack of pride and embracing it. They have either failed to recognize its importance or to adopt it as an important guiding principle, or both.

To encourage employees to do their best requires that management first shows why practising pride is in employees’ self-interest. If they perform better, so will the company, which means more secure employment and opportunities for advancement and better compensation.

Equally important, engaging in a job and doing it well is a much better source of satisfaction than going through the motions of a job and putting in a minimum effort. But management also has to follow through by ensuring that employees are trained to do their jobs properly and recognized for their accomplishments and rewarded financially.

Embracing pride at work develops more motivated and productive employees who require less supervision. It also leads to better products and customer service, and more wealth creation.

Embracing pride as the policy of doing our best in all areas of life leads to values: thriving and happiness.


Originally posted 28 April 2014

Photo credit: Max Pixel



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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.


  1. Indeed.

    People need a set of principles to guide their work. It’s the leader’s job to select great people and point them in the right direction – integrity, honestly servicing honest customers who will pay for the product or service, efficiency with quality, …. OTOH, politicking rots a business – creates distrust and fosters looking inward instead of out at reality (at te customer).

    I am particularly concerned about licensed professionals who do not know how to administer their business. I recently pointed a dentist to Branch Bank and Trust’s ‘culture’ document, after his staff forgot to tell me something important.

    ‘Operational Quality’ is uncommon.

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