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LEADERSHIP SERIES
How to Build Responsible Business Leaders?
It’s not just character. We also need to avoid ‘moral overconfidence.’ (Coordinated by A. Sandeep)
Issue Date - 27/10/2011
 
If you think about ethical behavior as an immutable character trait, you might argue that the biggest contribution Harvard Business School can make to the creation of responsible business leaders is through its admissions process: that somehow our admissions professionals will weed out “bad seeds” with questionable character, and ensure that only upright and moral aspirant managers will benefit from our training and the HBS seal of approval.

While I hold our admissions office in very high regard, I don’t ever think they’ll be capable of this type of clairvoyant character analysis. I believe what social science has taught us about complexities of temptation, situation & context, the peril of moral overconfidence, and the many shades of gray.

Responsible business leaders should be mindful and vigilant of the temptations they and their employees will face. They should create systems and cultures that encourage and reward everyone to behave well – and encourage people to speak up, without fear of consequence, when they see behavior that should be stopped. Most of all, they need to remember that most of us have more confidence in our strength of character than we likely should, and we need to remain vigilant to prevent this hubris from leading us astray. In the years ahead, I hope researchers at places like Harvard and elsewhere will help give us a better understanding of precisely how to accomplish that mission.

 

Nitin Nohria           

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