Dana Brown, Saïd Business School
Having suffered criticism for training a generation of business leaders who led us into the global financial crisis, business schools have been increasingly interested to find ways of educating ‘responsible’ leaders. Many schools have jumped on this bandwagon, offering courses in business ethics or corporate social responsibility. Yet, even after some years of experimentation in this area, it is not clear that responsibility can truly be taught, even in the most sophisticated of classrooms.
Part of the reason lies in the very essence of responsibility. To be responsible, first and foremost, requires serious self-reflection. There is no universal agreement on what it means to be responsible or ethical in a business context. A business leader needs to decide for herself what responsibility means and how she can align her work and objectives with her personal values in a way that is comfortable and self-fulfilling. Often it takes years of experience and trial and error to find this ‘comfort zone,’ although practicing self-reflection through coaching or other means from early on in one’s career is likely to help. Responsibility is not only a personal matter, though.
The issues that any business leader confronts will vary depending on where, when and in what conditions she is working. Today, global business leaders often work in environments that are ‘complex’ in the sense that they exist across multiple institutional and cultural contexts, and require engagement of numerous stakeholders. To be responsible requires knowledge about the implications and outcomes of your actions, which may not always be easy to discern. This is the area where I think business schools can help students the most.
We can teach students how to approach the type of complexity they will likely encounter by teaching them more about the social, political and cultural environments in which businesses operate. As much as business students need to know the laws of finance, they also need to understand the ‘rules of the game’ that will determine the outcome of financial decisions and investments. We can teach business students about politics and political economy and we can confront them with some of the world scale challenges facing the business community today.
An effective pedagogy in this regard is the use of scenarios in which students can simulate the interdependence of business decisions and factors such as the state of the environment, politics and social outcomes. Finally, business schools can help to prepare students to appreciate and learn from the values and knowledge of others, especially when the class itself is diverse and this diversity is used as part of the learning environment.
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At Saïd Business School, we have a strong interest in encouraging responsible leadership, but we don’t think it is something that is simple to teach. Instead we try to foster responsibility by creating forums for discussion, debate and reflection about issues facing business leaders, and making the most in these discussions of a highly diverse and engaged faculty and class of MBA students.
About Dana Brown, Director of the MBA, Saïd Business School
Dana Brown is the Director of the MBA at Saïd Business School. She was formerly Professor of Strategy at EMLYON Business School and a University Lecturer in International Business at Saïd Business School. Dana has taught in MBA and Executive Education programmes in the UK, US, France, China, Russia, Denmark, Spain and Egypt.
Dana’s expertise is in the areas of corporate social responsibility, international business and global strategy, emerging markets and global health policy. Her research interests focus on the way that national employment and social policies affect business strategies and the intersection of public and private roles in determining policies that impact labor and environmental management. Recently, Dana has been working on CSR and ‘social strategies’ in the pharmaceutical industry.