This is a book about the practice of courage, showing how individuals can behave courageously in the workplace. The intended audience, if the characters who appear in the examples and cases is anything to go by, will be found among supervisors and practitioners rather than on the executive floor – we hear from or about people who are working as a nurse, waitress, OD specialist, chef, graduate student, carpenter, fire captain, financial analyst and junior partner.
The balance in the volume is illustrated by the positioning of the chapters containing examples and tools between book-ends, one written by Al Gini, a co-founder of Business Ethics Quarterly and the other by Dennis Moberg, a former President of the Society for Business Ethics. These chapters are not unduly academic, rather fit for purpose. Gini defines moral courage as the readiness to endure danger for the sake of principle, and argues that it is neither beyond our reach nor outside our reasonable aspiration.
Moberg reminds us that acting courageously means we have chosen rightly in the face of harm, that there are dangers of excess as well as of deficiency for courage, and that courage needs to be aimed at good. The central sections offer examples of individuals who have acted courageously and an introduction to a range of skills and tools that will help people to act with courage. These examples serve a double purpose, not only showing that courageous behaviour is possible but also that it is needed.
Stephen Kohn encourages readers to act courageously by showing that whistleblowing has a critical role in the control of corporate fraud. Roland Kidwell notes that moral courage, arising from strong ethical impetus is one of the six characteristics of social entrepreneurs. He has a place for both the head and the heart, for reason and emotion, in the development and display of courage. Jeffrey MacDonald writes of faith and moral courage in a chapter which tells the stories of the car dealer, the nurse on the organ transplant team, the social worker and the young supermarket cashier who all act courageously in standing up for a principle. Gina Vega goes back to the first Israelite kings, Saul and David, to show that individuals have been yielding to the temptation to do nothing for centuries.
The editors, Debra Comer and Gina Veda, describe the Personal Ethical Threshold (PET) and include a questionnaire which can be used to establish one‘s individual PET score. The PET is an effective way to make the ideas of moral intensity and situation salient to individuals. Typical of the practice-focussed approach of the book, the questionnaire uses ten scenarios based on actual incidents that will be within the compass of many readers.
There is considerable consistency in the tools and activities, and in the authors‘ confidence that the tools will work. The book begins with an acknowledgement that courage is often lacking because it involved effort for which we were unprepared and many examples show individuals preparing and practising in the face of expected difficulty. Practice can be demanding, and as Moberg points out it is disciplined practice which is the most effective. The book is not holding out an easy answer, but it is repeatedly showing that something can be done.
There is an emphasis on reflection as part of the preparation and practice. Leslie Sekerka and her colleagues have the military taking time for a reflective pause. Mary Gentile notes that taking time to reflect on and name ethical challenges can help to prevent denial or freezing and even help us to reflect in advance of stress. Contemplation is the first step in the contemplation observation preparation process which Comer and Baker offer for building a morally courageous coalition in the organization.
The editors have produced a book which focuses on the positive and which prepares its readers to confront the issues which face them rather than give in to them and complain. The consistent message is that it is possible to do something, and that this is important to us both as individuals and as members or managers of organizations. Aristotle tells us that virtue is learnt by example and practice. Moral courage in Organizations provides many examples, in sufficient depth for us to see what is going on, and provides many ideas and programs for disciplined practice.
Each chapter comes with endnotes and a reference list. The editors have done a commendable job linking ideas from chapter to chapter with cross-references.
School of Management, Univer-sity of South Australia
Moral Courage in Organiza-tions: Doing the Right Thing at Work, Debra R. Comer and Gina Vega (eds) ME Sharpe, Armonk NY
ISBN 978 0 7656 2410 9 USD39.95