By William F. Brandt, Jr.

In her book, In a Different Voice, Carol Gilligan describes three stages of moral development. The first is “survival,” when infants focus solely upon themselves and their own needs.

The second occurs in early childhood when children have a sense of both themselves and others. This stage is typically different for boys than for girls. Women in most societies are the primary care givers. Along with this responsibility comes the role of maintaining relationships in the family and the community. Girls identify with their mothers whom they see modeling these behaviors. For girls, the second stage of moral development is “caring.” They develop a sense of responsibility for others, cooperation, equality, and community.

Boys, in contrast, model their fathers, whom they see as going outside the family to hunt, fish or earn a paycheck. What is right is to stand on one’s own and develop skills to impact the world. Boys realize that there are “others” and that they must distinguish themselves in comparison. For boys, the second stage of development is “identity.” They seek achievement, competition and higher relative positions. They value autonomy, independence and freedom. The formation of rules, the administration of justice, and the concept of fairness become valued because they set guidelines for achieving these distinctions.

The third stage of moral development is “maturity,” whereby men and women both have a sense of identity (self-interest) and caring (concern for others). Once a man achieves a separate identity his challenge is to see his behavior from another’s perspective and to take responsibility for others as well as for himself. A woman, who in adolescence established a sense of caring, must learn that she has a separate identity, and that she is at least as worthy of care as someone else.

At maturity both men and women embrace concepts that only one sex valued at stage two. These are justice, caring, autonomy, equality, fairness, truth, connection, identity, freedom, achievement, independence, and responsibility. It is a fundamental premise of Gilligan that identity and caring, or “self-interest” and “concern for others” are not mutually exclusive but rather are both elements of a range of values comprising the highest level of moral formation.

This premise is further supported by Riane Eisler, author of the landmark book, The Chalice and the Blade. Eisler describes two social systems that over the history of humankind have governed the range of human interactions from individuals to business to nation-states. The first, the “Dominator Model,” is comprised of rigid hierarchies, ranking (typically of men over women), competition, violence, and command-and-control governance structures.

The second social system is the “Partnership Model,” characterized by flexible hierarchies and ranking by merit—while still retaining formal hierarchal structures, the use of power to accomplish a task more so than power as control, equal status for men and women, non-violence, mutual relationships, and the embracement of both identity (self-interest) and caring (concern for others) as core values.

Although the Dominator Model has governed social systems for most of human history, Eisler details many instances where the Partnership Model has been predominate. The principles instilled in my company, American Woodmark, and expressed in my books, follow Eisler’s Partnership Model.

I recall a particular training and dialogue session with a management team at which each person had the opportunity to comment on any topic relevant to the company. One woman, full of emotion, related that she recently had a death in her family and that she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she received from the company and her coworkers. To her, this behavior spoke to what the company was all about. That is—not only pursuit of self-interest, but also concern and caring for others.


William F. Brandt, Jr., is cofounder and former CEO of American Woodmark Corporation—the third largest producer of kitchen cabinets in America. His books include the winner of 22 Book Awards COMPASS—Creating Exceptional Organizations: A Leader’s Guide and COMPASS TOOL KIT, the teaching companion to COMPASS (www.WinterValePress.com ).

Copyright 2015 © William F. Brandt, Jr.

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