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Opinion

Can You Teach Businessmen to Be Ethical?

By Jonathan Haidt

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Designing an ethical organization isn’t just about “nudging” individuals. You also have to think about the culture that emerges, how you as a leader can shape that culture, and how your organization can hire and fire to protect that culture

Business has gotten a bad rap for thousands of years. “The more men value money-making, the less they value virtue,” Socrates wrote. The Bible warned that a camel would sooner pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man through the gates of heaven.

Americans have traditionally had a more positive view of commerce, but two waves of scandals—Enron in 2001 and the global financial crisis in 2008—have decimated that trust. As a result, Americans are more ambivalent about business than they were in the 1990s, and many students entering business school today are eager to revive the focus on virtue.

A survey by the Aspen Institute showed an increase between 2002 and 2007 in MBA students’ desires to have their careers make a contribution to society. The survey also found a decline in the belief that a company’s primary responsibility is to maximize shareholder value.

Read full article as published in The Washington Post

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Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership.