This post first appeared in BizDean Talk and is reprinted with their permission.
A prominent hedge-fund manager pleads guilty for running a scam with worldwide investor losses as high as $50 billion. A Texas billionaire is accused of conducting an $8 billion investment fraud. A major assisted living operator and its founder are accused of massive securities fraud on $2 billion worth of housing that soured as the real estate market dived. Owners of a company that manage hundreds of millions of dollars for universities and charities stands accused of bilking $100 million from the organizations they purported to help.
And these are just the headlines since December. It leaves an ordinary person with a sense of wide-eyed wonderment. “Who in the world could do such things? How did they get that way? Do they even have a heart?”
As Dean of a large business school, I am often asked about character. Could leaders with some virtue have steered clear of these temptations? Where does character come from? Can business schools influence character? Should they? How?
I would argue that ‘yes,’ character clearly counts in the business world, and ‘yes,’ graduate business schools do have a role in encouraging and developing character.
Countless studies have shown that corporate leaders who demonstrate positive character traits positively impact the long-term reputation of the company. That is why in many business schools, the stated mission focuses on developing leaders with character. As a group, business schools have dedicated tremendous resources to researching, analyzing, teaching and scrutinizing character development. But clearly there is more that needs to be done if the impact is to be meaningful and lasting.
Recent discoveries in science are enabling us to reconsider the critical connection between emotions and intellect. After centuries of segregation, many are re-imagining an integration of head and heart. In fact, some researchers suggest that at least 40% of our happiness is generated by our thoughts vs. genetics and circumstances.
At an internal University conference several years ago, our Provost, Dr. Darryl Tippens, laid out his vision for becoming a more heart-centered institution.
I will paraphrase Dr. Tippens to say that to be a successful business school, indeed to be a successful business, we need to be heart-centered. Business people must recover the “heart side” of learning and business practice. The side that includes thinking as well as feeling and includes not only intellect, wisdom, and analysis, but also joy, sadness, and love.
In business schools, there should be a natural ease in linking intellectual interest in business life with passion for service, concern for people and care for the world. George Pepperdine, an entrepreneur and founder of Pepperdine University, thought heart was so important that he said this in his founding address in 1937: “If you educate a man’s mind and improve his intellect with all the scientific knowledge men have discovered and do not educate the heart . . . the man is dangerous.”
So, I suggest that healthy business practices reconnect the head to the heart. We must seek not only knowledge but the transformation of hearts to really make a difference in the business world. Imagine the new wide-eyed wonderment at that news.
Related Articles in the GBR
Discovering Leadership Potential by Richard Mann, PhD, V. Seshan, PhD, and Connie James, PhD
Strengthening Values Centered Leadership by Charles D. Kerns, PhD
Conversations about Conscientious Capitalism by Molly Lavik, MS