October 09, 2003

Leadership Key to Ethics

by Bruce Willison, Dean of UCLA Anderson School and the John E. Anderson Chair in Management

Over the past few years, we have been treated to a countless tally of accounting fraud, outrageous pay and perks and other financial shenanigans by some major global enterprises. Just recently, New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso was forced to resign amid an executive compensation scandal.

Something seems to be missing from the mix in corporate America: leadership. That’s not to say that most executives and managers are treacherously navigating their companies; in fact, just the opposite is true. But some business leaders have forgotten that business is a fiduciary responsibility — a public trust — and not just a way to increase personal wealth.

The Anderson School recognizes the need to help students and corporate executives understand and embrace leadership. For the past six years, our Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies has conducted a Director Training and Certification Program that educates corporate directors and executives regarding Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, Financial Accounting Standards Board considerations and recent legislation, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which has added to the challenges facing America’s boardrooms.

In addition to providing leadership programs to executives, we also know the importance of shaping the leadership skills of students in our M.B.A. programs who are on the path to become business leaders. For years, we’ve offered elective courses in business ethics (and even added a new, more philosophical one last year). However, business ethics is not the core issue with regard to the corporate malfeasance we’ve witnessed over the last few years. Leadership is the overarching umbrella with which we need to concern ourselves.

Academics argue whether leadership or even business ethics can be taught. As a former bank CEO, I learned firsthand that ethical dilemmas don’t present themselves as neatly packaged issues; rather, they might come as a manager is working on a financial deal, a marketing campaign or a human resources strategy. At Anderson, we understand what our students will face once they’re in the global marketplace and, as such, have always incorporated discussion of leadership and ethics as part of our core management courses in finance, accounting, marketing, economics and human resources.

We’ve continually sought to improve our leadership curriculum and felt we could do more to help our students shape their leadership abilities. So, over the last seven months, several Anderson faculty members have diligently worked to shape a two-unit Leadership Foundations course, which students complete in their first week at Anderson. For this course, students work in groups, perform leadership exercises and discuss leadership cases and scenarios. Their final objective is to create a map that states the student’s leadership aspirations, summarizes his or her leadership strengths and limitations, and specifies a leadership developmental plan, which is a living and breathing document that each student will spend the next two years shaping.

We hope this small, but important, change in our curriculum will not only help our students mold their leadership potential, but will also instill in them the important role their leadership will play once they become business leaders whose job it will be to serve the public trust.

(This article first appeared in UCLA TODAY 10.07.03 VOL.24 NO. 3)

Contact Information

Media Relations, (310) 206-7707, media.relations@anderson.ucla.edu

Media Relations