What Can Aspiring Leaders Be Taught?

Let’s say you are left in charge of an MBA program. How would you and your students sort through the tensions in corporate life vis-à-vis society, employees, and investors? How would you build those learnings into your program and make them stick?
by James Heskett

Summing Up

An overarching theme of an unusually large number of responses to the June question of "What can aspiring leaders be taught?" was that of context.

That is, the suggestion that while it may be late to teach ethics and "distinguishing right from wrong" at the undergraduate or graduate level of education for leadership, such efforts should strive to provide a context in which individuals can draw their own conclusions regarding such topics of vital importance for future leaders.

Further, courses in functional subjects such as marketing and finance can provide a more practical context in which ethical dilemmas can be resolved than can separate courses in ethics or values. Further, how ethical and value-based dilemmas are taught may be as important as the inclusion of such subjects in the curriculum.

Rene Wentworth commented that " ... business schools (and law schools, medical schools, etc.) should attempt to teach students ways to reconcile their actions when ethics seemingly compete with profit or another targeted outcome." As Ken Coleman pointed out, "business students need to understand that decisions made in a vacuum with no weight given to broader success factors which are ethical and value centered, are or certainly can be detrimental to the society they serve ...."

A more acerbic point of view was offered by Mark Anton: "The area of ethics and values is so subjective and variable to individual perception that it will have little room and limited effectiveness in the classroom. Have the students read Dilbert instead."

According to Vuks Gwele, "Ethics and values are and always will be an integral part of our lives both in business and society... For that reason it is not advisable to teach business ethics and values in isolation from the functional areas of study needed for business success." While suggesting at times that a stand-alone course in ethics and values might have some use alongside such an approach, many others echoed this point of view.

Several suggested that instructional behaviors and settings could have as great an influence as the content itself. One respondent wrote, "...values should be modeled by the instructors in how they prepare and deliver content, the time and value they give their students, and the grading philosophy." As B.V. Krishnamurthy commented, " ... many of us do not practice what we preach... Unless we are willing to be role models for a generation of young people, an easy resolution of the question posed does not seem probable." Tammy Doty suggested that physical aspects of the setting could be critical, advising that "preaching/teaching ethics doesn't work, but a scared-straight approach does. Create posters featuring the handcuffed children of lapsed ethics ... and wallpaper the classrooms."

But does the responsibility rest solely or even primarily with business schools? Can on-the-job training deal with the shaping of values and ethical behaviors just as it does with various skills needed for the job? If so, does this suggest an added dimension for business school training, i.e., the preparation of leaders who can "teach" ethics and values on the job as well as demonstrate them by their behaviors? What do you think?

Original Article

Debates among business school faculties these days mirror those taking place on the business (and sometimes front) pages of our newspapers. The question: What are appropriate responses to the perceived breakdown in trust between leaders, those who work with them, those who advise them, and those who invest in their organizations?

The educational responses will take many forms. First, increased emphasis may be placed on the teaching of ethics—socially acceptable decision-making and decision-implementation behaviors—to those who will become leaders and managers confronted with alternatives that some would view as involving right and wrong, and others would view as involving a selection of the lesser of two or more wrongs. Taken to its extreme, this may involve some effort to effect moral change among those studying ethical issues.

Other approaches to instruction will place heavier emphasis on values—individual, organizational, or both. Here, more attention will be paid to the careful development of, and adherence by managers to, what in the past often have been meaningless organizational value statements. These may or may not reflect ethical values, but include preferred behaviors such as treating people with respect, exercising speed in decision-making, insuring transparency and the sharing of information, and emphasizing simplicity in ways of getting things done.

Just how these topics are to be taught will occupy a significant portion of faculty discussion and planning time as well in the coming months. Should the topics be addressed in separate courses staffed by those with substantial training in philosophy as well as management theory? Or should they be examined in courses primarily designed to address marketing, accounting, financial, human resource, and operational matters and taught by those only with strong functional backgrounds?

Of course, only a limited amount of time can be allocated in a curriculum to these topics, whether taught in stand-alone courses or as integral to all courses. Any school that cuts back on basic courses such as marketing, accounting, and the like does so at the risk of inadequately providing its graduates with the basics needed for success in the early years of their careers.

Do recent events warrant this reallocation of educational time and effort? What kind of emphasis should it have: on ethics, values, or something else? And just how should the instructional effort be carried out: in stand-alone classes, integral to all courses, or in some other manner (recognizing the shortcomings of any one approach)? What do you think?

    • Luis Tondi
    • Partner, Range Management Consulting

    Moral principles are formed early in life and very little can be done to teach them at a later stage. ... The focus of business schools should be to raise awareness of the consequences of unethical behavor and to influence policy makers on taking strong measures to indict and prosecute corporate executives who taint the profession.

    • Tammy Doty
    • Business Development Manager, Poelmann Chan Group (Hong Kong)

    Preaching /teaching ethics doesn't work, but a scared-straight approach does. Create posters featuring the handcuffed children of lapsed ethics from ImClone, Enron, WorldCom, etc. and wallpaper the classrooms.

    The poster's tagline: "Will you be a Sam Waksal or a Warren Buffett?"

    • Bela Barner
    • Business storyteller

    While the temptation for MBA programs to jump on the "ethics" bandwagon is strong, I would argue that most efforts would be misguided. Promising managers who have risen quickly in their organizations in part due to ethics-compromising, rule-bending behaviors are probably beyond the point of correction.

    Their behaviors have already been rewarded to the point where academic experiences cannot alter them. It's up to the organization to recognize and stop such behaviors before they create serious problems. Obviously, this has not been possible for many organizations.

    • Narendar Singh
    • Team member, AXA (Insurance) Business Services, Bangalore

    Business schools should teach MBA students:

    1) ethical norms, and

    2) about the character the students have. As an individual acquires a higher position in his/her profession, the soft skills become more important.

    • Shaun Ridley
    • Deputy Executive Director, Australian Institute of Management

    It is essential that questions of business ethics are integrated into all subject-specific classes. This ensures that the business school can take a clear position on these issues and define what behaviors are appropriate. Having a separate class will almost ensure that the marketing professor will say, "Don't worry about the ethics until you do that class next semester."

    All subjects, like all parts of business, should model an appropriate framework for making ethical decisions.

    • Rene Wentworth
    • Senior partner, Lebanon Law Shop

    "Morality" (or lack thereof) is an innate part of a person's psyche, which becomes molded and engrained through childhood experiences. Although a "sense of ethics" cannot be taught in a classroom, business schools (and law schools, medical schools, etc.) should attempt to teach students ways to reconcile their actions when ethics seemingly compete with profit or another targeted outcome. Many times, there will be more than one way to reach the desired end, particularly long-term, and students should be taught how to find alternative, ethical routes.

    This can be taught much more effectively (and convincingly!) in a subject-specific class, where various actions/results can be explored, rather than in a philosophical "ethics" discussion-oriented class.

    • Morena Sithole
    • Projects/Operations Manager, BP Southern Africa Pty Ltd

    My take on this is that the study and/or philosophy of human conduct, with emphasis on the determination of right and wrong, is paramount to leadership. This is Ethics! It should not be confined to the business environment... In the bigger scheme of things, business exists or is a product of society. If ethical issues are not addressed at a societal level, we are bound to fail at business. And this is at the core of good corporate governance.

    • Anil Kumar
    • Consultant, HP India

    Aspiring leaders should be taught humility, ethics, empathy, communication, responsibility, and concern.

    One thing they should NOT be taught is "success at ANY cost."

    When we rate a person on his wealth, acquisitions, social status, corporate status, etc. this is an illusionary yardstick of measurement.

    Leadership cannot be easily described. But the person who considers each moment as a "moment of truth" which lets him reflect on who he is, what he is, and what he wants to be, and who follows his conscience (as far as possible) and achieves greater peace of mind, would be a "leader."

    • Mal Rudner (HBS MBA '73)
    • owner, Enflo Corporation

    The time is NOW. If family, society, K-16 and life haven't brought MBAs to a sufficient level of humanity, decency, maturity, understanding, and wisdom, then business schools need to take on this mission. Why us? Because Willis Harman and Peter Drucker tell us that this 21st century will see the global business community as the leading edge of massive change around the globe. Like it or not, products, sneakers, computers, services, advertising, and cars move around the earth with "attachments." These "attachments" include values, ethics, cultural characteristics, definitions of the "good life." We need business leaders who understand that every decision made has the potential to engender or endanger the planet's survival/progress. ...

    In-house MBA students spend about two years in school with maybe 3-5 hours/day in the classroom. My suggestion is to take advantage of the non-class time for the learning of leadership, EI and the like. These students are adults. Tell them that some 80 percent of their success in business and fulfillment in life will have to do with their leadership, emotional intelligence, and character development/values. Then give guidance, experiential exercises, homework, action-learning, curricula, life tasks, self-initiated
    growth programs, simulation exercises, etc. as part of the two-year degree. ...

    If one thousand future CEOs have their personal levels of consciousness raised to the point of even reasonable self-awareness, how many ego-driven, failed mergers and acquisitions could be avoided? ... Yes, it is difficult "for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle" (let alone get to heaven). Yet, we have all seen leaders courageously stand in the "eyes of hurricanes." Often these individuals find riches in life in many spheres. But failing that, they inspire the rest of us and, more often than not, they experience lives filled with heart and spirit. ...

    • Robert C. Mullins
    • student, University of Central Oklahoma

    Please help me. Teaching ethics in college!? This is something that should have been taught in kindergarten. Corporations have been cooking the books for a long time now, and still are today. What makes someone think that by providing an actual curriculum on ethical behavior it will produce ethical graduates? By the time students hit the campus they have already decided how ethical they are going to be. They will be as unethical as they can be until they themselves are actually affected by the consequences of their actions. Has anyone ever read Jonathan Edwards? Man is born unethical, and unethical he will remain. It is only a matter of how unethical he will allow himself to behave. Ethical behavior is not a matter of collegiate training, it is a matter of nature.

    • James Ratcliffe (HBS MBA '01)
    • Director, Strategic Mktg. and Planning, Narad Networks

    Having sat through HBS's earlier efforts at ethics education (MBA '01), I doubt the new push will be any more successful. Business schools get students in their mid-to-late 20s, with 15+ years of school and several years of work experience behind them. If, by that point, they haven't learned that lying and stealing à la Enron are bad, then they certainly aren't going to have an epiphany in a business school classroom. These are values that are appropriately taught in kindergarten, not business school.

    Business schools would be better served to teach their students not ethics, but rather law. Trying to convince b-school students that something they feel is ethical is in fact wrong is a difficult if not futile task. Teaching them that, regardless of whether they think X is right, doing it will bring on the wrath of the S.E.C., is a much more viable and valuable approach. The value of classes in business ethics is dubious, at best, but the value of business law classes is tremendous.

    • Anonymous

    Values should be taught in every existing course and not as a separate event. But even more importantly, values should be modeled by the instructors in how they prepare and deliver content, the time and value they give their students, and the grading philosophy.

    I've seen too many classrooms where students have become customers and success is a marketing premise.

    These short cuts, small deceptions, and minor value infractions are just the beginning of a new value proposition that begins to be formed. In effect, a bargain with institutions.

    I've been in MBA classes where instructors don't want to say, "No, that's not correct." Even at this level we're still concerned about damaged egos and self-image. As a result, in business I now see lots of reports that only focus on the "upside" and ignore or minimize the real significant negative issues.

    At some point we must learn that to succeed we also have to fail and that it's part of a process of learning, improvement, and ultimately success.

    • Kathryn Yates
    • Global Practice Leader, Watson Wyatt Worldwide

    While ethics and values are fundamental to good (profitable in the long run) leadership, I'd place additional emphasis on the fundamentals of open communication--in fact, communication with integrity. Creating an environment where employees can and will share their knowledge and where they trust in the information from their leaders is a key success differentiator. In fact, there is research showing that companies that communicate with integrity have higher total returns to shareholders.

    • Shaun Greene (HBS MBA '98)
    • Regional Operations Manager, Recall

    The good leaders LEARN! Trying to teach a person to be a better leader is pointless. The person must want to be a leader, which requires constant learning in all disciplines.

    • Robert Briant
    • Project Engineer, Pneutronics Division of Parker Hannifin

    I think it should be taught both as a stand-alone class and then reinforced in the spectrum of the curriculum. Any good graduate program will have at least one leadership class in which many of the ethical issues facing all leaders can be brought to the table. Then they can be discussed in an open format, allowing these future leaders to understand all sides of these types of issues.

    • Anonymous

    It is of value for all organizations to decide how they want to be perceived in the community. Thus understanding their "values" is important. Why schools and organizations have to teach this is a fundamental question that should be answered. Is it due to a lack of moral and religious teaching in the home or at the earliest grades? Is it the new society that supports "get it any way you can" that is really showing the true colors? Is general apathy of "me, myself and I" all that matters-thus if I do something that hurts another, that's just unfortunate? People usually know right from wrong; it's just whether they are willing to listen to themselves.

    • Vivek Kochikar
    • Principal Consultant, Infosys Technologies

    The challenge facing business education is to take the next step in the evolution of the "maturity" of curricula—from equipping students with a toolkit of concepts, principles, and problem-solving techniques, to delivering an understanding of the more subtle aspects of the organizational mind. As with any other form of maturity, this transition cannot be rushed —its speed will be a function not only of the will and resourcefulness of the faculty, but also of the student's mindset. It is the latter that I want to address here.

    Consider the organizational landscape perceived by the typical business student. The more egregious examples of Enron and WorldCom apart, what s/he sees is hardly inspiring when seen from an ethics/values perspective.

    The external interfaces that organizations present can frequently be difficult to describe as entirely honest—promising customer benefits beyond what can be reasonably delivered, glossing over risks in shareholder communications, shackling competitors unfairly, using fine print and jargon to limit customer visibility into true commitments made.

    Much the same is evident in the internal dynamics of organizations—overstating progress on projects; departments jockeying to take credit for successes and avoid it for failures; resource allocation that is based on clout rather than true need, top managers being overly generous in rewarding themselves.

    Undoubtedly, the business student will see many of the above practices even among his or her fellow students in the pursuit of academic success.

    A business curriculum cannot hope to be credible to its audience if it appears to pretend that the above practices do not exist. In fact, one of the basic strengths of a business curriculum is its ability to relate to business reality and ring true to its audience.

    Hence, the recourse appears to be:

    - Begin with the candid admission to students that the current notion of success--whether in business, academics, government, or any other field of endeavor—as the no-holds-barred achievement of goals, is broken. The "enlightened" notion of success must treat ethics and defined values as a given, much as the laws of physics or economics.

    - Give examples of organizations/individuals that have thrived in the real world using this new notion of success. There are, fortunately, several.

    - Dwell on well-known examples of organizations/individuals that failed due to an excessive, blinkered focus on the traditional notion of success.

    This ought to set the mindset moving in the right direction.

    • Bob Nemens
    • Director, Marketing, Diebold, Inc.

    The clue is your phrase, "...the basics needed for success in their early careers." MBAs fresh to the workforce must have functional expertise, true. However, their first leadership challenge may be with first-line supervision. Are they graduating with the right level of useful people skills required for positions in their early career?

    Second, I feel that basic courses in behavioral science (not philosophy) are appropriate, since at all levels in an organization today it is clear that motivating and leading people is vital for an ever-increasing pace of business. The behavioral science basics should also be applied throughout each area in the functional curriculum to reinforce practice from theory. This does not take too much time or detract from the area of study. In fact, it enhances study by allowing the student to make some "real world" connections in both application and also in relation to awareness of their own values. This also reflects a true level of training needed for their first positions. These values drive behaviors that are solidified in ethics.

    Last, if the MBA is not an effective leader and motivator early in their career, it is unlikely that they will move up to areas of more responsibility--areas that move 180 degrees from functional expertise to jobs that require true leadership qualities.

    • Eugene Booyens
    • Ministry Leader, SQ Student Ministry

    As for the content of a leadership course, I would always start with the heart. The heart of a leader is a furnace. It is passionate, it is burdened, and it is positive. Studying the great leaders of any time will bring any person to these same conclusions: that leadership starts and ends with people—serving people.

    Method is always preceded with heart. The greatest leaders I know of only acquired some form of education, whether formal of informal, after they discovered their desire and passion to lead, feed and serve. That is the first and greatest principle of leadership, and deserves more time than any course or degree has to offer.

    The second greatest principle I perceive in leadership is purposeful, lifelong, personal learning. You can start off where you like, but he who climbs the fastest in life will surely end up the highest. The essence to understanding growth and its value lies in understanding the difference between learning and growing. Learning encompasses the daily disciplines of reading, listening to tapes, formal education, seminars, building two-way relationships that stretch and inspire, and doing the hard work of thinking.

    Actual growth is the fruit of such disciplines. What I have experienced in my life, and have perceived in the lives of so many other learning leaders, is that although learning may be linear, growth has actually been exponential. The keys to growth are humility, discipline, attitude, and application. Without these, we become philosophers and theorists who bear no fruit.

    The last thing I want to say starts on the subject of method. In education the greatest truth is this: "I teach what I know, but I reproduce what I am" —Dr. John C. Maxwell.

    • Diane Giansante
    • Organizational Development Spc., Heritage Valley Health System

    My current work involves deciding which topics and methodologies will best provide fundamental leadership skills to a management team that is otherwise technically and clinically superior.

    As someone who has had the "luxury" of a liberal arts education, I marvel that leadership behaviors are issues that still need to be addressed in post-graduate education. There are numerous socioeconomic factors that cause this to be so, of course.

    As an educator, my opinion is yes, of course these topics must be addressed in any business school curriculum, in an overview course and in practical application. Strong functional skills of instructors should not preclude leadership ability.

    Business doesn't happen without people, and a Master of Business Administration needs to know how to get the best return on all company assets, including the people. Any school that cuts back on basic courses such as leadership behaviors and the like does so at the risk of inadequately providing its graduates with the basics needed for success in the early years of their careers.

    • Ed Hare
    • Director, Strategic Planning, a Fortune 250 manufacturer

    I am unsure how effective college level "instruction" can be in turning back the tide of greed and corruption that seems to be infecting our institutions.

    Whether it's business, government, or everyday human interactions, we seem to be becoming progressively more selfish, self-centered, and divorced from personal responsibility. By the time one reaches college, how well formed is one's character? How do you "teach" people that the guiding question is not "Can I do this?" but "Should I do this?" To me, it usually boils down to motives ... and leaders of tomorrow can be motivated by position, power, money, ideals, or a vision of a legacy they want to leave ... to have made a difference.

    I suspect that many college-level students don't fully understand their own motives when they haven't been presented by vexing choices ... or intoxicated by money or the chance for promotion and power. It is then that motives emerge ... usually hidden by saying the right things. It is the challenge of organizations at those times to separate those of noble cause from the charlatans and abusers ... to find the real leaders within. And, our organizations and their clubby natures are ill-prepared to do that.

    • Albert Ciuksza, Jr.
    • Pharmacy Services Analyst, McKesson Automation

    There is a point at which academics cannot solve a very real-world problem. While I am very interested in management and organizational theory, I also recognize the importance of practical application.

    There seems to be a prevailing thought that leadership is lacking, a thought that I would tend to agree with. The unfortunate reality is that few people have the emotional intelligence or self-discipline to act as a competent leader. Leadership, as a principle, can be taught. The effective use of that principle is what truly divides those that are true leaders and those that are not. Until someone fully commits him- or herself to the principle, he or she cannot be a true leader. It also follows that, if someone were to commit him- or herself to the principle of leadership, he or she was probably a less-polished leader to begin with.

    • Marc San Giovanni
    • Regional Operations Manager, Sovereign Bank

    I think that academic institutions should put greater emphasis on "strong functional backgrounds." It is quite difficult to convey business standpoints and views without actually been in live business situations. There are often many different dynamics to a business that seem to evade most modern writers attempting to address popular subjects in their books. Educators need to "sort through the tensions in corporate life vis-à-vis society, employees, and investors" before engaging students on such subjects. Many of us in the business force have learned as much (if not more) from experiencing success, failure, and hindsight in a real business environment as we have in our academic careers. You simply have a limited perspective if you are constantly looking from the outside in.

    "Education does not mean just teaching people what they do not know; it also means teaching people to behave as they do not behave." —John Ruskin

    • Flavius Chircu
    • Freelancer

    It's very hard to think of ways by which school alone, especially as late as an MBA, can improve ethical behavior in a 1) culture that reveres loophole-finders 2) bubble when pressure from un-ethical competitors can destroy one's career well before justice is done.

    • Puneet Sapra
    • Associate, JPMorgan

    Leadership is part of everything we do, and not a compartment separate from personal, business, social, or spiritual life. Therefore, I believe the fundamentals of leadership (values, attitudes, responsibility, accountability, etc.) should be integrated into the business school curriculum. Professors can take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate the relevance leadership has to their subjects. What a powerful message.

    • Brian Chamberlin
    • President, Atigo, Inc

    I believe the recent events show systemic problems in how businesses are run, and that addressing these problems will require an honest look at the systems we currently take for granted.

    A prime example of this is the board of directors. A typical board gathers four times per year for an all-day meeting. There they get a one-sided presentation from management on the state of the company and any pending decisions. Given this environment, there is little more they can do than to rubberstamp what management puts before them. After all, most board members are running their own company and simply cannot invest the necessary time to research an issue. Perhaps if the board members spent a few days walking around the company talking with employees, they might gather enough information to make properly informed decisions.

    If educators want to make a difference, I would prefer they spend their time creating new and better systems rather that the band-aids currently offered such as "more outside directors" and "teach more ethics."

    • Anonymous

    The 'wise' forefathers of education in Australia modeled our institutions of higher learning on the University of London, i.e., no liberal arts prerequisite, just training for your functional specialty from day one. I personally encountered my first 'ethics' subject as an elective midway through my MBA. It was purely a chance encounter, a subject normally offered every 2 years, and advertised by a visiting speaker in another experimental subject titled 'corporate governance.' Personally, I found the experience very challenging, and truly felt my lack of studies in general philosophy.

    Ethics, on the other hand, form an integral (if sometimes unspoken) part of Marketing, HR and Finance. I understand the MGSM is investigating the incorporation of Governance/Ethics as another core in their MBA, and would agree that the subject warrants this treatment. That said, it's also a useful adjunct to every other 'strategic' subject.

    • Ken Coleman
    • Partner, Odyssey Group

    I think it is vital that business programs place greater emphasis on ethics and values. I agree that business schools must maintain a high level of functional business curriculum—the basic tools of business management are fundamental to decision making. However, what requires expansion are the definitions of success. Business students need to understand that decisions made in a vacuum with no weight given to broader success factors which are ethical and valued centered, are or certainly can be detrimental to the society they serve—the society that puts an incredible amount of trust in the people who make decisions and govern. Business has to be viewed as a provider of intelligent and efficient goods and services that benefit all as opposed to a game where manipulation of information and spin geared to short term clouded gains benefit only a few.

    As to the how: I think a portion of the business school program should be specifically dedicated to ethics and values and this should be facilitated on a stand-alone basis. However, and it is a big however, the ethics and values must be incorporated into the functional and strategic program. Strategic planning must broaden the scope of strategic planning incorporating an ethical and value-based standard—marketing should be tempered by an ethical and value-based template that ensures public good and health are integral in decision making.

    All this being said, providing a larger portion of programs to ethic and value-based programs will be futile unless these principles are incorporated into functional programs.

    • Umesh Gupta
    • Sr. Dy. General Manager, BHEL, New Delhi, India

    I remember somebody told me on my first day in the organization to treat human beings with dignity and care and you shall never fail. Value systems practiced in the organization to some extent reflect the value system prevalent in the contemporary society. Therefore, value education should not only be taught to budding leaders and managers but also to students in general.

    • Anonymous

    I don't think you can teach a morally corrupt person to make honorable decisions. The personal values of a person are built over a period of time from childhood onwards. How can you change a liar or a cheat in to a paragon of virtue in a semester or year?

    There are no angels in this world. All you can do is give people some small guidelines (integrated in the core courses) about right or wrong behavior. Don't go into too much detail, just the broad outline should be enough.
    It is the spirit of the thing that should matter, not the details. (An example would be the accounting profession.)

    Finally, I would recommend teaching people when to speak out, even against bosses, and then helping the whistleblowers have a life.

    • S. Balamurugan
    • Manager, ICICI Bank, India

    A soldier never decides where he has to fight. But the soldier fights and works to achieve the unthinkable. A leader motivates or leads others to achieve the unthinkable. There is one more person who gets the unthinkable done from others, and he is the politician. ...

    There is a legendary epic called "Mahabharat" in India. The epic depicts some of the most exemplary leaders which this country has produced: Bhism, Arjun, Karna, to name a few.

    A common thread that runs through all the leaders of this epic is is ethics and integrity. Leaders, I believe, should symbolize ethics and integrity. The success of a manager as a good leader can be measured by the number of people in the organization who emulate and aspire to follow in his or her footsteps. And people will follow the leader only when the leader is at the front. That is precisely what happened in all the wars fought by these leaders of the Mahabharat. These are not leaders who led their forces from their strategy rooms, but they participated in the war. They made themselves visible to their soldiers, and that brings tremendous inspiration and motivation to fight and win the good fight. Mahatma Gandhi led the people of India to freedom by leading them by example, and not only by strategy.

    How to teach ethics and integrity in a business school? I think it would be very difficult to teach these vital qualities of being leader. The best one could do is to make the students aware of the same, through lessons from history, role-plays and case studies. Once the students become aware of the same, they should put the same into practice in their everyday life. It is only through conscious effort and practice in everyday life that one would be able to imbibe the qualities of ethics and integrity in oneself.

    • B.V. Krishnamurthy
    • Executive Vice-President and Professor of Strategy, Alliance Business Academy, Bangalore, India

    Perhaps the most important dimension that needs to be ingrained into aspiring leaders is the fact, often forgotten, that they are human beings first and leaders next.

    Management education has for too long focused on functional aspects. Thus, when young people graduate out of a business school, they are already in the mould of marketing or HR or finance or systems. Inevitably, this leads to a frog-in-the-well syndrome that prevents them from taking a holistic view of a problem. Therefore, aspiring leaders need to be taught the principles of synthesis [integration] as much as those of analysis. To an extent, this is done in the area of strategy, but then, how many fresh graduates start off their careers in strategy?

    The second important issue that needs to be addressed is the process of value or wealth creation. While there cannot be any doubt as to the validity of the value creation concept, one also needs to look at HOW that value is created. Due to the proliferation of B-school ratings, comparisons of entry-level compensation, and profiles of the best companies to work for, students start dreaming about the number of zeros in their salary check while they should be concentrating on learning. It is time we gave some thought to avoiding this ratrace where there are no winners.

    Ultimately, we cannot, and should not, avoid teaching students the distinction between right and wrong, by whatever name we may choose to call it. In my humble view, the greatest responsibility for this is with the teaching fraternity.

    Unfortunately, many of us do not practice what we preach. We lecture for 90 minutes about empowerment and decentralization and exhibit autocratic behavior immediately thereafter. Unless teachers take on their duties with a missionary zeal, nothing much can be accomplished. Unless we are willing to be role models for a generation of young people, an easy resolution of the question posed does not seem probable. Do we have the courage to accept the challenge?

    • Zbigniew Becker
    • International Project Co-ordinator, Academy for European Integration

    I think that more response is necessary on the part of legislation rather than education. It is somewhat naive to think that adding a module or two on ethics to curricula will fix the problem. Most business schools do already address the issues of ethical management in one way or another, so I do not see any reason for a dramatic change here and overreacting to recent developments in question. It's the politics and policy-making fields that need serious fixing in this respect, which may however be a theme for some limited series of specialized courses for policy-makers.

    • Mark Anton
    • Principal Systems Safety Engineer, Medtronic Arrhythmia Management

    In 1977, the Hastings Center of New York (Power and Vogel, 1980) researched the area of ethics in the education of business managers. They believed that formal ethical consideration is necessary due to an erosion between management, institutions, and society (p. 7). They stated four basic factors contributing to this erosion: 1) the growth in size of institutions, especially corporations, 2) growth of legal business constraints and requirements, 3) public concern about externalities of corporate activities, and 4) new priorities of human dignity and the value of human life.

    In 2002, business schools again are directly looking at the ethics of their students as discussed by Browning (The New York Times, 2002). He stated, "Now, as accounting and management scandals raise questions about the probity of executives, the schools are trying to check applicants for less tangible qualities: honesty, integrity and ethics." The discussion sounds new, but it is very similar to the research done by Power and Vogel 25 years ago!

    What does this mean? Nothing new, nothing borrowed; the nuts and bolts are what companies want. They want their managers to have the basic business skills and the 'values' will be left for the individual company to decide and instill, which is exactly what companies desire.

    Schools in our area (Minneapolis) are offering programs in the 'softer' side of leadership that have a stronger focus on ethics and values, but these programs offer little competition to the traditional MBA programs because of the current American business culture. In Lagace's (HBS Working Knowledge, 2002) article about Paul O'Neill, then-U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and former Chairman and CEO of Alcoa, she wrote, "As a new arrival in a private company after fifteen years in government, O'Neill was surprised to learn that his immediate colleagues were more worried about competition with each other than with other companies in the industry." This is the traditional American business culture.

    Additionally, none of the schools have attempted to integrate the two focuses, which would seem to offer the best-balanced approach. Traditional MBA programs offer traditional companies the best chance for delivering traditional success, which is short-term financial success driven by external and internal competition.

    The area of ethics and values is so subjective and variable to individual perception that it will have little room and limited effectiveness in the classroom. Have the students read Dilbert instead.

    • Daniella Ballou (HBS MBA '02)
    • Consultant, Bain & Company

    A key thing to be taught (which gets almost no attention currently) is an understanding of the important roles that each sector of society (the public sector in particular) plays in ensuring that business is practiced in an honest and ethical manner. In sum, the key is respect—people need to be encouraged to respect the roles that government and nonprofit watchdogs play.

    Government regulators and nonprofit watchdogs can play a key role in setting the rules of the game and preventing the corruption we have recently seen in the business sector.

    Students should not be encouraged to recognize the important role of the public and nonprofit sectors, and to realize that self-regulation and market forces alone won't be enough to police industry.

    • Praveen
    • Quality Manager, HCL Technologies

    What is actually strange is that we were unaware of this issue for so long. ...
    What is required is an understanding of what society and organizations put a premuim on. When a Forbes list of the richest people in the world is published, there aren't any equivalents in the ethics field. Even in B-school, the highest salary-earner gets all the attention even if, say, he has done something unethical. ... Please teach students that it is OK to be so-called mediocre but ethical. Ultimately, behaviour that is rewarded and glamorized is what gets emulated. ...

    • Vuks Gwele
    • Business Analyst, Isoyiso Technologies, South Africa

    Ethics and values are and always will be an integral part of our lives both in business and society. No organization's core product or service is values and ethics, yet in a subtle way every organization is influenced and affected by values and ethics if it is to achieve (or fail to achieve) its functional and strategic objectives. The drivers for such objectives are embedded in marketing, accounting, financial, human resource, and customer service operations of the organization.

    For that reason it is not advisable to teach business ethics and values in isolation from the functional areas of study needed for business success. An integral approach to all courses should be adopted. After all, the outcomes of ethics and values learnings will be demonstrated by attitudes and behaviors, which in turn will determine the predefined measure of success at functional and strategic levels. Whether the subject area is staffed by those with philosophy and management theory backgrounds or those with strong functional backgrounds, the context and content should be in line with the underlying course. However, instructional efforts should shift from a pure tuition and instructional style to a more coaching and mentoring approach. In this way, the student will understand both what business ethics and values are, and how to implement them, and thereby inculcate the organization's culture.

    • Jonathan Slow
    • Senior Executive, Scottish Enterprise

    I believe it is the context that is important when considering the issues around (let's call it) "responsible leadership." In this case, it is actually extremely hard to differentiate between the moral, ethical, and socially responsible underpinnings and the finance and marketing operations of them. In fact, it would probably be wrong to do so.

    I think the answer lies in developing a strong basis for decision making in its entirety with a number of dimensions to those decisions, but based in the realities of the operational decisions a manager/leader will face. In fact, the application of this variety of responses might be one of the key differentiators in the future between managers and leaders.

    Of course, you can add at least one other dimension of difficulty in recognizing that the issues apply to leadership teams, too. This is another important issue to consider in leadership education: the role of the individual leader and the potential implications of their decisions on the corporate whole.