To some, the title of this blog might appear to be oxymoronic. We seem to be living in an age of sweatshops, insider trading, & white collar crime which potentially has created a general opinion that to rise through the ranks of the business world one has to forgo their personal ethics. Meanwhile we search around us for strong leadership to guide us, akin to how the North Star guided our ancestors. As an MBA student, this means that we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions. What sorts of leaders will we become? Will we be able to make the difficult decisions needed to navigate the oftentimes murky delineation between right and wrong in the business world?
Recently here at Imperial College, we took a break from our studies to ask ourselves some of these difficult questions and more. We, as future leaders of the business world, will someday need to be the ethical compass for a new generation and through our words and actions steer others towards a better horizon. To this end, we felt it was important to reflect upon the journey that we have taken to this point along with what our core values and beliefs may be. Our guide on this journey of self-exploration was Professor Charles Donovan who helped us to evaluate ourselves in a safe environment. From Professor Donovan, when asked about the objectives of the course: “In the MBA programme, as in professional life generally, there never seems to be enough time for everything. Intentionally slowing down to re-consider basic assumptions can seem at first glance to be a waste of time. But great leaders learn to make time for self-reflection because it keeps them connected to their deepest talents and authentic sense of presence. Wisdom can’t be rushed.”
At this point you might be saying to yourself that you know what is ethical, or that you are aware of the laws that govern businesses and know to stay on the right side of them. As part of this course we challenged ourselves to look beyond the laws as they were written to their core intent and to ask ourselves what we truly believe in. The funny thing about ethics is that quite frequently they can be a very personal interpretation of the actions of yourself and others, often going back to our formative years as children, or to that first manager we had after university.
How we see the world is the sum of our experiences with others. When surrounded by those with similar core values to ourselves it is easier to make decisions that “feel right” or are in line with our personal ethics. However, if for example, you join a company where the words and actions of your peers and senior leadership conflict with your own code of ethics, how difficult does it become to be the lone voice of dissent. As Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Would you put your future career at that company on the line for what you believe or would you quiet your discontent and stifle your inner ethical voice? We each reflected on this question and wrote letters to our future selves to be opened upon graduation and at this point I would invite you to do the same.
Who are you, and what kind of leader do you wish to be? How will you not only motivate and influence others, but be their guidepost towards what is correct in the business environment? What are your core ethics/values that you will not compromise under any circumstance, and how will you ensure that you do not?
These questions, to which only you know the answer, are as important now in the current climate of business and politics as they have ever been in the history of the world. As such, doesn’t it make sense to take some time out of your busy life to explore who you are and what you stand for?
Vince is a student in our 2016-17 Full-Time MBA class.