Volume 1, 1990
Proceedings of the First Annual Meeting
Dean Ludwig, Clinton Longenecker
The Bathsheba Syndrome
The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders
Reports of ethical violations by upper level managers continue to multiply despite increasing attention being given to ethics by firms and business schools. Much of the discussion of these violations focuses on the competitive pressures which these leaders/managers face. Much of the aliention by firms and business schools focuses on the training of managers to make ethical choices in the face of these competitive pressures. While valuable, this "competitive pressure" analysts is incomplete.
This paper suggests that many ethical violations by upper managers are the by-product of success—not of competitive pressures. Our research suggests that many managers are poorly prepared to deal with success. First, success often allows managers to become complacent and to lose focus, diverting attention to things other than the management of their business. Second, success, whether personal or organizational, often leads to privileged access to information, people or objects. Third, with success usually comes increasingly unrestrained control of organizational resources. And fourth, success can inflate a manager's belief in his or her personal ability to manipulate outcomes. Even individuals with a highly developed moral sense can be challenged (tempted?) by the "opportunities" resulting from the convergence of these dynamics. We label the inability to cope with and respond to the by-products of success "the Bathsheba Syndrome," based on the account of the good King David (a story familiar in a variety of traditions). Recognition of this phenomenon implies that we change or broaden our approach io the teaching of business ethics. It also implies that organizations must reevaluate and change structures, procedures, and practices which enhance the likelihood of managers falling victim to the Bathsheba Syndrome.
In our research of the Bathsheba Syndrome we have identified critical ethical situations and patterns that leaders/managers must be well equipped lo deal with on the path to success. Our discussion will focus on helping both researcher and practitioner to better deal with the ethical perils of success.