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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)
Scholar/Administrator

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw, a professor at Columbia University, is Academic Director of Wharton Executive Education. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Education Without Ethics

I think this problem of failed leadership begins well before these executives rise to the top of Wall Street firms. The shaping of values and leadership identity occurs in our education systems, prior to their selection and socialization into financial firms. Business schools need to "step up" to take some responsibility for the leadership skills and ethical orientations of their graduates.

Henry Mintzberg comments that MBA programs have become breeding grounds for technicians rather than strategic, ethical leaders. My own experience teaching MBAs attests to this sad condition.

As a common source for financial-industry executives, business schools can and should play an integral role in the development of the leadership capabilities of their graduates, and should include ethical leadership as a core component of their curricula. Business schools have an opportunity to impart values along with technical skills, and many have either chosen offer up a meaningless elective or worse, a non-credit lecture or workshop on ethical leadership or leadership skills. This signals to students the peripheral nature of leadership and ethics within their education.

Wall Street is in dire need of courageous leaders who can restore the values of trust and fairness in business rather than the prevailing values of greed and exploitation. Effective leadership in our financial system creates value for shareholders while caring for and preserving the integrity of the system and its stakeholders.

Education is never value-free. In any classrom, the professor's lecture -- be it on financial markets, accounting, or human resources management -- always carries an underlying message or philosophy. When business schools choose to avoid or neglect their responsibility for the development of ethical leaders, this equates to sending a different message: that these things don't deserve a place in the classroom alongside functional skills.

A forward-thinking business school will soon figure this out and will become a leader in developing leaders, as well as a model for the future of business education.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  September 16, 2009; 7:13 AM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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For crying out loud, the entire point of Capitalism is to increase the relative wealth of the 'surplus wealth' class.

Why is it surprising then that the leaders of the Capitalist world would share values with this single overarching drive, get more,keep more, own more?

Why SHOULD they care, since 'business' and 'ethics' are an oxymoron when combined in a sentence?

Posted by: mykmlr | September 18, 2009 2:58 AM
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I think the problem with ethics in business schools is that people think that ethics is a course to be taken and that focusing on "ethical dilemmas" in one 3 credit class will make you be ethical. Debating whether or not you should sell a locksmith's "skeleton key" that people could buy and end up using to break into houses even though it is not technically illegal (yep, we actually did that in mine! is not going to help anyone learn to become an ethical leader. For "ethics training" to be effective, it needs to be woven into every course, and not just in a "check the box" fashion of having one day where the professor talks about exercising ethics. Because a whole semester of borderline unethical talk can't be negated by one class period of happy talk. Professors have to live it and breath it, and make sure that they are instilling a base level of morality and ethical leadership in everything they do. And even if B-Schools do absolutely everything right, we still have to realize that there are always going to be those who are inclined to "use The Force for evil".

P.S. I will say that despite the absolutely ridiculous ethics class I was required to take, I felt that most of my professors really did exhibit great ethics and integrity in all they did. Particularly in my management and leadership classes.

Posted by: etate52 | September 17, 2009 9:28 PM
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"So why is it different if you're studying finance or supply chain management?" Businesses employ humans, claim personhood as corporations, and have enormous impact upon society. For the past thirty years, they have escaped responsibility for their duties to society. Julliard trains violinists, but they work for a symphony. There is an enormous difference. Our B-schools have failed.

"I believe it should be left to families, communities, schools, churches and synogogues and mosques to raise ethical citizens."

Our courts have taken church out of the schools and the community. Families are at the whim of morally desolate media, and that is at the behest of a global corporate mantra which states that any regulation or even input by a consumer (such as say give us a la carte cable) "stifles competition, curtails 'consumer choice' (now limited to bankruptcy, suicide, or starvation) and suppresses 'innovation."

Yes, innovations such as a shadow financial system devoid of rules, offshore tax evasion like drug barons, and 'complex financial derivatives."

Sunday school ain't gonna cut it.

Posted by: llllllllllll1163887541111dd | September 17, 2009 8:06 PM
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The school where I earned my MBA was one of the fist to incorporate ethics into the formal curriculum.

So with that academic experience firmly under my belt, I can safely say, with all due respect, that teaching ethics in B-school is a crock. Contrary to what the moderator says, B-schools SHOULD be focusing on the technical skills. They SHOULD be producing outstanding technicians.


Should Julliard be teaching their violin students ethics, or should they be teaching them how to play the violin? The answer is fairly obvious.

So why is it different if you're studying finance or supply chain management? The primary responsibility of an ethical manager is to maximize shareholder return. Incompetence is a form of ethical failure. The ethical manager must necessarily also be a supremely competent one.

Plus, who's to say that all future leaders come from MBA schools? Over half of all Fortune 500 CEOs, in fact, come from other academic disciplines like law, computer science, engineering, and economics. Are those managers somehow at a moral disadvantage because they didn't receive ethics training in an MBA curriculum? Of course not.

I believe it should be left to families, communities, schools, churches and synogogues and mosques to raise ethical citizens. Let the graduate degree programs focus on skills. Besides, today's MBA student isn't so much a louse as he is a dolt.

Posted by: SkyBeaver | September 17, 2009 6:27 PM
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The reality is more something like this. Much of a person's temperament whether it relates to ethics or anything else is determined by their genes. A bit more is determined by their parent's attitudes. Probably the size of that bit has something to do with their genes as well. Another significant determinant is their teenage and maybe a little later peer group. That experience is where their social skills really develop and are sharpened. Maybe they learn a little going to college and some graduate school. But the idea that some course in MBA school is going to make a big difference seems like a joke. The reality is that when someone gets to work, they are expected to make decisions according to the standards of their employer. Just to make sure, they probably don't get to make many decisions on their own in any case. Most often, variations in competence have more to do with negative impacts of their work than ethical issues in the limited choices they get to make.

Posted by: dnjake | September 17, 2009 6:05 PM
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Perhaps business schools should also consider the type of people they are accepting into their MBA programs. All of the alums I have met from top business school do not have a sense of corporate responsibility. The only thing they care about is how much money they will personally be making. It is this combination of selecting people who are selfish and unconcerned about the greater good and a lack of focus on ethics first and profits second that have resulted in the mess we are currently in. Business schools should be the first place we should be looking at to reform our current system. Then again, I doubt the folks at these institutions care about all of us little people who are not worthy of their attention. If they cared then ethics would be front and center, not an afterthought.

Posted by: BB1978 | September 17, 2009 3:30 PM
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Is it ethical to run an expensive MBA program where the primary focus is that the students get in touch with their inner Midas ?

The purpose of teaching "Ethical Leadership" need not to be to "change Wall Street", but rather to bridge this gap. The school benefits per se.

Posted by: gannon_dick | September 17, 2009 2:29 PM
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As a Columbia MBA I am well aware of the problem of teaching ethics. I did take a course titled something like Business Ethics. But it was nothing of the sort. It was exclusively examples of maximizing long term profits by being aware of issues that could potentially cause lawsuits and the like. That's not an ethical decision at all. But when ever discussion might lead to a choice where the ethical decision might actually lead to a reduction of profits, the professor changed the subject. Consequently NO ethics were actually discussed. Only how "looking ethical" increased profits, mostly by avoiding profits.

Posted by: swschoene | September 17, 2009 1:53 PM
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