Dignity - the missing link for a better world

Posted in: Business and society, Research, Sustainability

Michael Pirson won the Social Issues in Management (SIM) Division’s Best Book Award at this year’s Academy of Management Conference. He is an associate professor at the Gabelli School of Business at Fordham University . Dr Johanne Grosvold, Deputy Director of the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society, chaired the SIM Division’s Best Book Award Committee, and as such was privy to all the books nominated for this year’s award. It was an extremely competitive field, yet the committee was unanimous in its assessment of which book should be the winner of the award in 2018. Michael Pirson’s book Humanistic Management offers a timely and novel reminder of the importance of human dignity. Here, Michael provides a synopsis of the arguments he puts forward in the book. 


The world is facing massive crises: from climate change to terrorism, from political instability to extreme poverty, and from corruption to cyberbullying.  The Guardian recently published a piece suggesting that reading the news is bad for us, because it makes us anxious and fearful. Too many crises exist, too much noise there is to absorb. The authors suggest to stop reading news altogether, which is ironic given that the Guardian is a news outlet.

Clearly, many of us can empathize with this suggestion. And people across the world seem filled with fear and anxiety. Brexit, Trump, and the return to tribalism globally are a result of this pervasive fear: a fear of both of others and a fear of the future. While it is hard to see that these crises are connected, I am suggesting that they have the same root:  our quest for human dignity and the denial of such dignity.

Dignity means we are all valuable, in fact invaluable. Even in times of economic booms, lowest unemployment in history, most of us do not feel valued. We feel lost, unappreciated, and afraid. Yet, the Pope has written that the environmental crises are deeply intertwined with a personal spiritual crisis. He suggests that our quest for human dignity along with a spiritual alignment can help us protect ourselves, our communities, and the planet that sustains us all.

While fear is natural and understandable it does not always give us good advice. Fear of the future and others prevents us from working together to solve those problems. Remember the last time you solved a puzzle, finished a Sudoku or experienced the Eureka effect? It must have felt good because our brain rewards us for solving problems. Scientific evidence shows us that people thrive when they take part in problem solving efforts especially in when they can do it together. If there is ONE way humanity can address these large, global problems it is through collaboration.

Dignity is our highest common denominator, says Harvard’s Donna Hicks. When we can establish our common dignity as human beings, we establish a solid basis for collaboration. Unfortunately, our current conversations are too often focused on what makes us different, from the left’s concern about identity politics to the right’s tribal populism, we easily forget that we are part of a human family. This focus on differences and diversity diverts us from solving the problems we all share.

Management is about problem solving, and better management is sorely needed. To get to better management practices I argue we need to put the concept of dignity in the center. It is what makes us human, it is the basis of collaboration, and an enabler of excellence. While exploitative practices work, the evidence is very strong that when we feel treated like human beings we achieve the highest levels of creativity and innovation.

In my latest book published by Cambridge University Press, I present a humanistic perspective on management which protects dignity and promotes well-being. I argue that it is a new foundation for management that seeks to be collaborative and focused on the existential issues we are facing as human species. The goal of humanistic management is not only wealth and success in the market place. It is broader and aims at the restoration of our humanity. It addresses our basic existential crises which threaten our ability to be human and humane.

The othering of fellow humans is not the solution. The acknowledgement of what we have in common is. We are all invaluable human beings and we need to work together to solve problems. Let’s focus on what we have in common and then use our differences to develop practical solutions to climate change, poverty, and terrorism. Fear can make space for love and encounter. Conversation and joint problem solving allows us to become human, and joy results from success. This is what better management can do: allow us to reclaim our shared humanity. This is what I call humanistic management.


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Posted in: Business and society, Research, Sustainability


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