Moral Humility and Your Forum

Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria has spoken eloquently about the need for executives to cultivate a sense of “moral humility.” (See his TEDx talk here)

What gets managers into trouble isn’t that that they lack knowledge of what’s right and wrong or that they have not had enough ethical training.  Instead, they go off course because of “moral arrogance.”  They think to themselves “I would never do what Jeff Skilling or Rajat Gupta or Dennis Kozlowski did.” They believe that they know better, that they would never succumb to the pressures that have lured other successful executives.

Where does your Forum come into this equation?  Forum is the confidential, safe place where you can talk about tough moral quandaries, about choosing between right and wrong, or even choosing between right and right, situations in which some stakeholders will gain and some will lose.  These are often issues that are difficult, if not impossible, to discuss with your boss, peers, or subordinates.  And close family members may not understand the business context or pressures you are facing at work.

The Wall Street Journal has written that “[business] schools should do more to ensure that the dialogue [about ethical behavior] develops into an ethical support structure after graduation.  Alumni often mention that the hardest decisions they make occur when job demands conflict with their values.  And, importantly, that they are isolated when making them.”

With Forum, you are not alone in making the toughest ethical decisions.  You have a place where you can learn from others’ experience and cultivate your personal sense of moral humility.

Bob Halperin

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