Question 1, Part 2:
Can Bad Qualities Lead to Good Results?

Note to the Reader: For the question these emails are answering, look back to the first part of this series, above.

Response 4: From Nick Campbell, Staff Engineer, Johnson & Johnson

Tom - First the issue: What is success?

Earl Nightingale defined success as 'the progressive realization of a worthy goal.'

But at what price?

Gene Hackman starred in a movie in which he was an MD trying to regenerate nerve signals in paralyzed patients. His research included abducting transients and homeless people, and using them as unknowing test subjects. At the denouement, he asks, "If you could find a cure for cancer just by killing one person, wouldn't you have to do it?"

The pursuit of 'success' must not infringe on the rights and dignity of another. Sure, Steve Jobs has been a huge success. But he has also been a miserable failure (and not just financially). During the rise of Apple, he had a way of demeaning and rejecting people who weren't blind followers. And he was removed from the company he founded by his board of directors. It's one thing to reach top. It's quite another to leave a trail of bodies in your wake.


If 'success' is defined merely as reaching the top of the corporate ladder, we are selling ourselves short. The successful parent might make a lousy CEO, the successful CEO might make a lousy policewoman, the successful Olympic athlete might make a lousy team player.

Maybe the definition of success should be boiled down to this: Will your neighbors help you shovel snow off your driveway? I don't think Al Dunlap's neighbors will answer in the affirmative.

Nelson Mandela, when asked if he would seek revenge on his captors, said, "That would go against my mother's wishes. She said there are three groups of people in the world:

(1) one group passes through, leaving nothing behind, not even their name

(2) one group tries to achieve at the expense of others

(3) one group tries to leave the world a little bit better than when they arrived."

We all should try to gain admission to the third group.

A successful day is when you get out of bed at 0500, watch the sun rise, and appreciate your little place in the world.

More thoughts on Venky's email:

(A) The people with 'too much control' become paralyzed at the thought of losing control. And, by the way, ancient and modern philosophical thought states that we can only positively control what happens inside us. Trying to control the outside is an illusion.

(B) If you have to 'Flaunt wealth to get accepted in the right places', maybe it's not the right place after all.

Finally, success is defined in Webster's as 'having a prominent philosopher ask an engineer for his humble opinion.'

Carpe Diem, Nick

Response 5: From Jerry Walls (PhD Notre Dame) Institute Fellow

Dear Tom - Great questions. Here is my take.

There is a fine line and many superficial similarities between arrogance and egotism on the one hand, and confidence and focus on the other. In fact, there is a distorted or exaggerated version of all the human virtues and strengths which retain at least part of the power of the purer versions. The latter are the real keys to success and arrogance and egotism are distorted versions of the real items. Arrogance and egotism are offputting qualities as indicated in the very way Venky describes them. The very choice of the word arrogance rather than confidence to describe someone registers a negative judgment. Those who display arrogance can only be admired in a qualified, grudging sort of way. If having the admiration and goodwill of other people is helpful in achieving success, it seems clear that arrogance is a drawback.

In light of this, it seems clear that success often happens despite the obvious presence of arrogance and egotism. I think Venky is right that persons who "succeed" despite them must have other strengths which outweigh these drawbacks in the overall mix. In other words, confidence, passion and focus provide all the advantages of arrogance without the liabilities.

Or to use an image: Confidence is to arrogance what a quiet running, highly efficient car is to one which loses some of its horsepower due to an additional inefficient system which produces offensive noise. The latter car may be more colorful and interesting in some ways and may achieve certain kinds of success for those reasons. But they have nothing to do with the essence of what being an excellent car is all about.

As for the gruff autocrat versus the gentle democrat, I think it is true that different styles can work for different people and both can succeed if they are deployed with integrity. The gruff sort are often also noted as people who can be counted on to be loyal, who genuinely care, who have great hearts and the like, just as much as their more gentle democratic counterparts. Gruffness is a matter of personality and not character. But when gruffness becomes demeaning or demoralizing or a mere assertion of arbitrary power, then I doubt it will succeed, at least in the long run. For it will undermine the good will of persons who work for the gruff person. They may work well under the motivation of fear for some time but fear does not translate into genuine love, loyalty and enthusiasm. It is these which both types of managers must elicit if the most effective work is to be done in the long run.

As for the mixture of both positive and negative traits, I think that is an unstable mix which must eventually give way to consistency of either a positive or negative sort. Genuinely good traits are all compatible with each other whereas negative ones are both inconsistent with good ones and with each other. For instance, humility and confidence are perfectly compatible whereas humility and arrogance are not. Moreover, arrogance is incompatible with other negative traits such as diffidence. The virtues taken together provide all the strengths we need without the ambivalence which inevitably results when we try to mix them with vices.

Good Wishes, Jerry

Response 6: From Ed Brenegar, Consulting Fellow

Tom - There is much to say to Venky:

1. His lists are on target and could be expanded by the thousands.

2. I'm not sure I agree with Farson's understanding as Venky provides. I don't think that if you are just congruent with your personality, you'll succeed. I think success is the alignment of skills, experience, resources, values/ethics, vision/purpose, relationships, operational structure, timing and the appropriate context. It is complex and constantly shifting. If anything, it is sticking it out, and being flexible without violating your basic principles. This is what Porras and Collins in BUILT TO LAST discovered.

In the short term, which is where most businesses operate, I don't think whether the leader is an egotist or a altruist makes a lot of difference. I wish it did. One person doesn't make a company, but, in fact, for the long term, the case could be made that leaders really provide the environment for excellence.

The example of Jack Welch is a good one because he released GE to change, and held his managers to it. And if the leader can't do it alone, the team or collective will find a way to make it work. At least until the environment becomes so dysfunctional that a leadership change is necessary. In other words, American business overstates the importance of the individual for making things happen. Ultimately, if the will of one person doesn't conjoin with the interests and wills of others, then success will probably not result.

3. I think rampant, unrestrained egotism as Venky describes is a product of immaturity. I'm finding that people who have been emersed in either primarily intellectual or action oriented pursuits may have not developed emotional depth. I'm not talking pop pyschology, but I'm referring to a deeper inability to dissociate their identity from the work or institution in which they work. Egotists, no matter how expressive, are inwardly focused, and maybe even narcissistic. The outwardly focused individual who has developed this emotional depth will have a more harmonious, mutually beneficial set of relationships.

4. He raises a question about successful people who have all these negative traits. I think it is important to recognize that few people have actually no good traits. Some are more evident than others. A successful person in business may be so, not because he is an egotist, but because he is a good numbers person, or can translate a vision into actionable steps. The deeper question then becomes how we view the whole person. And the whole person is not the sum of their traits, or skills, or abilitiesl, or experience, but much greater.

5. What I think Venky is getting at is the real crisis in American or Western institutions, and that is their inhumaneness. In different words, their lack of community that is consistent throughout the organization. You'll find it in pockets, but not often as the essential identity of the organization. This is what Ičve been working on for the better part of ten years.

Also, yesterday, after printing off your email, reading while eating a mid-afternoon lunch, I read in Dee Hock's BIRTH OF THE CHAORDIC AGE (Berritt Koehler, '99). I recommend that Venky look at it. It is the missing link in organizations. It is what makes organizations human and humane.

6. So what should Venky do? Live by his principles, and look for a place where he feels like he belongs because of the values and beliefs of the people there. There are no perfect organizations, just as there are no perfect people. The challenge is to build a core of relationships which allow for the kinds of respectful dealings that he desires.

It may be that Venky needs to write his reflections on his research and publish it. He needs to take action in some appropriate way. I'll be glad to dialogue with him any time.

I hope this is helpful. I'd like to meet him someday.

Thanks for sharing this with me. Ed


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