May 28, 2003
schools earn failing grade on ethics
On May 20, The New York Times writes that according
to a survey of students, ethics is lacking in the business
school curriculum. If the business schools of our country
are not bringing this subject to the attention of future
leaders in effective ways, how much at risk is the free-market
system and its leadership?
Free markets are at no greater risk simply because business
schools are not adequately teaching ethics in their classrooms.
With or without the support of business schools, intelligent
and motivated participants in free markets will respond
to the expectations and demands of customers. The buying
public is fed up with manipulations and lies. Perceptive
business leaders will not ignore these important economic
signals and expect to retain viability and neither will
forward-looking business professors who need to attract
talented and thoughtful students.
One of my mentors reminded me that we
learn about things from books and about people from
other people. We can
be taught from a textbook about science, engineering,
transportation and a host of other enterprises and activities.
However; leadership, values, integrity-centered behavior,
relationships and service – these are communicated
and taught by those who exhibit them, person to person.
With reference to exhibiting integrity in leadership,
and the origins of these values, there are scholars in
the study of human behavior who suggest that fundamentals
of character habits are well established before an individual
is 5 years old. What this means is that our graduate
business schools are quite late in the lives of their
students in being able to provide much dramatic change,
for the better or worse.
However, if the premise is accurate that one learns
values from others and not textbooks (namely, from those
engaged in the management of institutions,) then professors
of business and management can do little more than cite
important and provocative examples, unless they happen
to be actively engaged in leading an enterprise themselves.
There comes a time in education when case studies need
to be fortified (if not replaced) by face-to-face interaction
with active integrity-centered leaders who can demonstrate
appropriate behavior and the ramifications for both hitting
and missing the mark. Creating a give-and-take academic
environment, with educators seeking input from entrepreneurs,
can enhance educational impact and restore the ethical
to the practical. Business leaders need business instructors.
Successful learning generally happens best when need
meets preparedness in the context of relationship and
credibility. Few traditional classrooms can rally all
four dimensions at the same time.
Yet, when a motivated student asks important questions
of a trusted and experienced individual, life-changing
events are likely to unfold. When students, representing
the future leadership of our society, encounter those
whose lives and livelihood are successfully created by
their own leadership of free markets, then we have an
opportunity to strengthen values, in business and beyond.