Transformational Leadership as an Effective Classroom Leadership Model for Business Ethics Instruction

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ABSTRACT

Charges have gone out from business and academia to our university business programs to examine ethics curriculum in order to produce more ethical employees (Soule, 2005). Transformational leadership offers promise as a model for business ethics instruction because it is "ultimately a moral exercise in that it serves to raise the standards of human conduct" (Burns, 1978, p. 20) which is exactly what is needed to produce ethical business graduates.

As Kouzes and Posner (2002, p. 31) point out, "To effectively model the behavior they expect of others, leaders must first be clear about their guiding principles. ... leaders are supposed to stand up for their beliefs, so they'd better have some beliefs to stand up for." This paper uses a survey of the literature and a personal observation approach to explore how the transformational leadership model serves as an effective classroom leadership model for instructors in business ethics in theory and in practice.

THE CALL FOR MORE ETHICAL BUSINESS GRADUATES

It has been several years since a number of business scandals rocked the American business climate. Court verdicts still loom for some alleged culprits. Problems can come from anywhere whether family, government, the workplace or society at large (Ethics Education in Business Schools, 2004, p. 9). Many in the business and business ethics communities are realizing that real changes have to take place in values based ethics, beyond the compliance recommendations of Sarbanes-Oxley. At stake is our free market system. The Ethics Education in Business Schools (2004, p. 7) report concurs: "At issue is no less than the future of the free market system, which depends on honest and open enterprise to survive and flourish." Aronson (2001, p. 245) highlights the need for corporate leaders to maintain long-term success of the firm and ultimately capitalism and democracy by demonstrating ethical behavior which he says "may essentially be described as behavior which is good as opposed to bad or right as opposed to wrong." Mendonca (2001, p. 268) adds that "Organizational effectiveness on an enduring basis is greatly enhanced by the self-transformation of the leader and of the followers that is inherent in ethical leadership." The need for more ethical leadership in business is clear. Something needs to be done to encourage ethics in students.

Business leaders and business ethics leaders in the United States and elsewhere (Milton-Smith, 1995) are collaborating to discover solutions. Both are looking to business school instruction for help. There is a realization that business schools aren't the only ones working to make the world a better place but they can provide guidance to students to do the right thing and also be successful (Ethics Education in Business Schools, 2004). There is a sturdy resolve to find answers no matter how much effort it takes.

Even though ethics instruction has been part of business schools for years, there is a concern that business schools have not been taking their ethical instruction role seriously. An alumnus of Harvard Business School provides an enlightening example. It was said that Jeff Skilling liked "guys with spikes" (McClean & Elkind, 2003). He appeared to resonate with a Darwinian survival of the fitness approach to business ethics with raw cash tossed like dripping red meat as the stimulus and cutthroat, take no prisoner business tactics as the faithful response. Ironically, this enlightened and practical view of business ethics culminated in a rumination by Skilling during the last days of Enron: the traders have taken over (McClean & Elkind, 2003), one of the key groups that Skilling controlled.

Jeff Skilling graduated from Harvard Business School. Not too many years after Skilling graduated (in the late 1980s), Etzioni (2002) relates his experience observing Harvard business faculty debating about what to do with a large grant to develop business ethics instruction for their MBA students. …