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Returning ethics to business education

Karyl Leggio
Karyl B. Leggio, Ph.D., is dean of Loyola University Maryland's Sellinger School of Business and Management. In addition to her research in the area of risk management, Leggio has presented at international conferences on the topic of business ethics and the significance of a Jesuit business education.

You can't open a newspaper, read a magazine, turn on the TV, or visit many websites these days without encountering a new story on the importance of business ethics, and the responsibility business schools have for instilling ethics in their students. As a business school dean, I'm highly attuned to these stories, and 100 percent in agreement that the time has come, has long passed, actually, for a sea of change in the way we approach business education in the United States and around the world. Greed is clearly not a reliable guide to business practice, and business educators need to be much more vocal in reinforcing this with our students.

I feel fortunate in leading a school that, in keeping with its Jesuit history and identity, has long made ethics, reflection, introspection, social justice, and yes, faith and values, integral parts of its business curriculum. I feel ahead of the game, but I also realize we could do a great deal more to help emerging business leaders realize that their code of personal and professional principles is their most powerful and enduring tool.

But we can't do it alone.

A business school's greatest strength is its connection to and relationship with the business community; in its local market, nationally, and worldwide. Our students benefit immeasurably from field experience at area companies, guest lecturers from leading organizations, live case studies on innovative businesses, and chances to meet and network with people who have extraordinary influence on the local, regional, and global business environments.

The lessons we teach our students cannot be learned in a vacuum. To truly benefit from a business education, students must be able to connect what they are seeing and hearing in the classroom with experiences they have had in their current positions, earlier in their careers, and to the personal and professional goals they aspire to later in life.

Students also need to see the emphasis we place on ethics and integrity alive in the business world, respected and demanded in their professional lives just as it is in their academic community.

Business leaders must ask themselves if they are recruiting with integrity in mind, especially for key positions. When they interview top candidates, do their questions hone in on the ways the interviewee's principles influence his or her ambitions and leadership philosophies? When considering applicants with MBAs, do employers expect the candidates' advanced business educations to have deepened their perspectives on the role ethics plays (or should play) in leadership? What kind of environment do businesses provide for employees? Do they recognize elements of their culture that make ethical lapses more common, and do what they can to enact change?

We all want students to embrace ethics and integrity for their own sakes, but the adoption of a principled business mindset becomes much more natural when students can witness the value the marketplace puts on their commitment and ideals.

As employers, businesses also have a great deal of influence over who attends our programs. Their support, both financial and otherwise, of students interested in graduate business education plays a significant role in who pursues these degrees and how successful they are in their endeavors. When considering who to recommend, endorse, or sponsor for a graduate business degree, business leaders need to ask themselves what qualities are most important in the future leaders of the organization. Fundamental intelligence, technical skills, and sheer aptitude matter, but in developing a true leader integrity, honesty, accountability, and sincere concern for others may matter more.

I know I am not alone in this belief. My peers at business schools in every state and every corner of the globe share this conviction. We benefit from the counsel and involvement of our colleagues in the business community in so many ways. Help us strengthen and deepen our students' understanding and embrace of ethics as well.

By Karyl B. Leggio

 |  August 26, 2010; 11:46 AM ET |  Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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As a person (like most of us) dramatically affected by the unethical climate of Wall St, I fully support you. The shortsighted greed of many of our business leaders not only shows little concern for others, it is so antisocial that it constitutes a crisis threatening the future of the country and the world. Students need to discuss this with teachers who are also role models as they form their guiding principles.

Posted by: msw13 | August 31, 2010 9:14 AM

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