Galvanizing Future Leaders

It’s exciting to see that the MBA Oath’s partnership with the Net Impact conference is having such motivating and inspiring effects, as evidenced by recent conference attendee Chris Dorrow. A student at the University of British Columbia. Dorrow believes that by pursuing integrity, society, faith, humility, honesty, and transparency, the MBA degree can regain an identity of respect and true leadership. We hope that many others will join Chris in hanging the MBA Oath on the wall next to their MBA degree.

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Leading With a Purpose

It’s no surprise that only 21% of Americans believe our leaders are doing “a good and effective job.” Yet people seem to be maintaining faith in the military and medical profession. Why? John Baldoni posits that it’s because these establishments maintain a clear focus on their purpose. They know what they’re supposed to be doing, they believe in it, and they commit to doing it.
But most organizations lack the clear sense of purpose that the military and medical sectors have. And it’s this lack of purpose that Baldoni believes has contributed to the current decline in leadership. He encourages leaders to recommit to their organization’s higher values by discussing them with the individuals they are leading.
But here’s the rub: when someone in the military or medical field loses focus on their purpose, the consequence can be immediate physical suffering. Without this immediate consequence, as in the business world, is it possible to maintain a clear focus?

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Taking Environmental Ethics Out of the Classroom at Pepperdine

At Pepperdine University, the Graziadio School of Business and Management offers a course that takes the idea of environmental ethics very literally. The course takes students out of mere classroom talk about environmental conservation and brings them to physically work on environmental conservation.

Led by former Patagonia CEO Michael Crooke and Professor Tetsuya O’Hara, twenty students traveled to the future Patagonia National Park in Chile to get their hands dirty, preparing the park for its future opening. The mornings were spent doing physical labor, with afternoons devoted to lectures and the task of creating environmentally sustainable business plans.

The course is a requirement for students seeking Graziadio’s Socially, Environmentally, and Ethically Responsible Business Practice certificate, an initiative begun by the school in 2010.

By offering courses that devote intensely focused time on sustainability, can future grads be encouraged to think seriously about incorporating sustainable tactics into their own business endeavors?

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Doing The Right Thing: Practice Makes Perfect?

“How could they let that happen?” That’s a sentence we’ve said a lot in the wake of the financial crisis. And it’s something we seem to be saying yet again in the wake of the Penn State scandal.

In spite of numerous findings to the contrary, most people believe that they would maintain their moral integrity, even under immense pressure in “heat of the moment” situations. Studies such as Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrate that when in an environment of “systemic evil” otherwise upstanding people cave into the current of unethical behavior.

Writing for The New York Times, Alina Tugind posits that “doing the right thing” may not be as automatic and instinctual as we would hope. The question: can “doing the right thing” be taught?

Psychology professor Philip G. Zimbardo thinks so.

Creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo believes that given proper education and training, people can be taught ethical, and even heroic, behavior. His Heroic Imagination Project is an effort to raise awareness of just how powerful social and environmental factors are in influencing one’s moral decisions. Students learn about psychological experiments that demonstrate how easily we can be swayed by the crowd into perpetrating evil, and then role play making the “heroic” decision in similar situations. His hope is that practice – and heightened awareness – will make perfect, and that these classroom techniques will pay off in times of crisis.

Zimbardo is operating under a similar assumption as the Oath – that practicing making ethical or heroic decisions will encourage us to actually make ethical or heroic decisions. It is not a new idea – Aristotle believed that virtue grows like a habit through practice. The question is, can practice indeed pay off in the emotionally-charged arena of moral conflict? Is it possible to embed moral courage deeply enough into one’s social habits so that, when we walk in on the coach with a kid, or notice a colleague fudging the numbers, we are willing to speak up even if it means the end of our own career?

The Heroic Imagination Project is already being implemented in some California schools and Zimbardo hopes to expand it to the military and business worlds as well. If you know Professor Zimbardo, let us know. It would be good to connect.

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Congratulations to the University of Iowa signers!

The Tippie School of Management at the University of Iowa saw its first oath-signing ceremony, hosted by Net Impact. Throughout the fall semester, the social responsibility-minded non-profit held discussions and debates about the Oath, culminating in last week’s signing ceremony. Best wishes to all those who stepped forward to take the pledge!

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Nudges, reminders, and the Oath

Previously, we have mentioned Dan Ariely’s findings that morality reminders reduce cheating. Other studies are now beginning to support this notion, as researchers find that seemingly subtle “nudges” encourage better behavior. Studies are finding that even occasional reminders such as phone calls can encourage people to maintain exercise regimens. If we extend this to notion to ethical management, does this support the idea of periodic social support as a key driver to keeping an MBA Oath mentality?

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Business Ethics and Value Creation: The HP-Oracle Case

Writing in The Atlantic, Daniel Indiviglio asks tough questions regarding former HP CEO Mark Hurd’s apparent move to Oracle.

He was forced to step down from his post due to a sexual harassment suit with a contractor in conjunction with filing mislabeled expenses. He had quite a soft landing. Just one month later, we now learn he will be hired as the president of Oracle, the second largest business software company. This should raise the obvious question: do business ethics really matter?

HP’s own internal investigation, according to Indiviglio, resulted in a ruling where he “didn’t violate the company’s policy, but did violate its ethical standards.” Is The Atlantic right in pointing this out as an example of business interests trumping business ethics?

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Is Management Itself Becoming Obsolete?

The Wall Street Journal suggests that the whole concept of management may have reached a peak in the 20th century and may soon be headed for extinction.

From scribes to typists to piling machine operators, occupations can find themselves obsolete.

Will the ranks of managers required to organize and coordinate people and allocate resources be replaced by new flexible models involving mass collaboration and ad-hoc teams? How can the best management practices and contributions be adapted to working under these new models?

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A Hurd Mentality … Small Lapses = Big Consequences?

Writing in HBR, Rosabeth Moss Kanter warns again the big traps in small lapses. “What were they thinking!?” turns out to have a number of explanations. Jefferey Pfeffer suggets that it’s another instance of a CEO thinking that the usual rules simply didn’t apply to him.

Can an Oath be a factor in helping prevent these situations?

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On Journalism And Professional Ethics

This week, a fair amount of debate has arisen over The Economist‘s recent “Obama vs BP” cover. A photo of the U.S. President standing on a gulf shore was edited to make it appear that he was standing alone.

The photo was taken by a Reuters photographer, and Reuters argues that it has a “a strict policy against modifying, removing, adding to or altering any of its photographs without first obtaining the permission of Reuters and, where necessary, the third parties referred to”. Meanwhile, a deputy editor of The Economist told The New York Times that she “wanted readers to focus on Mr. Obama, not because I wanted to make him look isolated. That wasn’t the point of the story.”

Journalism, like Law and Medicine, is another field which can be said to abide by a professional code, although it may be closer to Business in that it doesn’t explicitly require a certifying authority to anoint one as a member of the field. As media becomes more participatory, the notions of being a “published writer” are quickly shifting. As established gatekeepers recede in importance and new media such as blogs begin to challenge established media outlets in terms of societal impact, does  this change the status of journalism as a profession? Is it another example of how the lines around what is a “profession” are being redrawn?

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