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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Developing Moral Character in Business Education



Businesses have a crisis in leadership that has been brewing over a few decades. A paper by Crossman, et. al. (2013) delves into the need to develop character and values in business education in order to provide future leaders guidelines for appropriate behavior. From ethical crisis ranging from Lehman Brothers to Enron the business community has important functions in society that also include setting a standard of behavior. 

According to the authors there has been movement on the ethical side of educating business students since major scandals have damaged the country. Yet the movement has not delved deep enough into how students learn about ethics and develop character.  To help them identify what their values are it helps in identifying their moral compass through difficult situations. 

According to (Peterson & Seligman, 2004) an analysis of cultures, religion, moral philosophers and others have revealed some universal values:

Wisdom: The cognitive ability to be creative, love of learning, judgment, curiosity, and perspective.

Courage: Emotional strengths to accomplish goals in the face of resistance that include bravery, perseverance, honesty and zest.

Humanity: The interpersonal skills that include love, kindness and social intelligence.

Justice: Community strengths that strengthen society through teamwork, fairness, and leadership.

Temperance: The skills to avoid excess through forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation.

Transcendence: The strengths that connect to a larger universe that includes appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality.

Certain teaching methods have formed successful values through moral awareness. These include role-playing, collaborative learning, self-reflection, and service learning (Comer & Vega, 2008).  It is through the fostering of a greater understanding of society, working with others, and understanding the self that moral fiber is flexed and grown.

Character is something that is in our core, based within deep seated values. As difficult situations become apparent there is a blending of the situation with our personal values. It is also believed that situations often override character in most cases unless there are clear values that are being violated. That is assuming the person made the distinction. In situations where strong values have developed, character may supersede the situation itself.

There will always be those beyond the reach of ethical decision making. Business students who feel that earning the most money regardless of costs on others or those in excessive need of social approval that always follow the pack are likely to have an ethical malfunction in difficult situations. Despite this, there are others, with proper character training can overcome multiple pressures. To teach the standard sets the expectations for students to reach and may become relevant in their careers.

The authors argue that teaching ethics and moral character in a class is beneficial. It helps students understand moral dilemmas and learn how to reflect on the issues. A greater solidification of the student’s values can help them draw upon those values when the time is needed.

The report brings forward some important concepts. A class on ethics and moral reasoning is beneficial for moral development but is limited. Infusion throughout courses would appear to be the best approach as it becomes laced with other concepts within memory. When moral dilemmas arise and people seek answers they often look for examples and being able to find these important examples through multiple pathways furthers the potential draw and ethical conclusion. The values taught should be universal to cultures, religions and peoples to make them most applicable whereby students can build off the basics in any way they see fit to create personalization of character.

Crossman, M. et. al. (2013). Developing leadership character in business programs. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 12 (2). 

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. 2004. The VIA Classification of Character Strengths. Retrieved from http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/viainstitute/classification.aspx

Comer, D. R., & Vega, G. 2008. Using the PET assessment instrument to help students identify factors that could impede moral behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 77: 129–145.

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