The coverage has appeared in the special issue of Indian Management, June 2015 edition with focus on B-Schools.
Business has changed and therefore business schools too must change with times. It is a highly inter-connectedworld that we live in and cross-country interactions have heightened. The complexity of doing business has multiplied and today every decision has far reaching implications that must be carefully thought through. These stressful competing times lead to situations where one may lose sight of the long term downside in favor of short term gains. This is why it is imperative for business schools to focus on values such as compassion, mindfulness and ethics.
It is delightful to note that some of the best schools have begun programs that focus on character as much as competence. Without strength of character, competence alone cannot build greatness. Within character most business schools today focus on compassion (seeing things from another’s point of view), mindfulness (being fully aware and present) and ethics (doing the right thing).
Compassion for leadership
Leaders for the future must appreciate that the world is inter-dependent. They cannot ignore a significant part of their society or country – it will only lead to imbalance. They must have the ability to carry along their fellow citizens and the empathy to understand each stakeholder’s unique perspective. As industry leaders, they must appreciate the conditions of the homes that their workers return to after a 12 hour shift. As salespeople they must understand the needs of their rural clientele and how these can be fulfilled. As team members they should empathize with each other for mutual success. For all this, they need to understand the art of compassion. Compassion for us means the ability to understand a situation from someone else’s perspective and take action towards change.
This is best learnt by volunteering with successful non-profit organizations and bringing about change in challenging scenarios: taking responsibility without authority. Non profits and quasi government bodies welcome bright minds who can work with them to make innovative marketing plans, analyze spending and help with HR policies. They also enjoy the interaction with faculty and industry experts and therefore open their doors to the students. This is now an integral part of curriculum across some of the leading business schools. Stanford for example, sends its students to developing nations to work with communities and develop solutions that would make work easier and lives better. While this interaction does impact the communities, it also leaves a significant imprint on the young leaders who have usually seen a completely different world. Kellogg has a special program where every student is part of a non-profit board. Short term projects or year-long volunteering – both work well to make the students more compassionate leaders for life.
Mindfulness in action
Apart from compassion, organizations as well as individuals are now also looking for meaning – more than ever before. Nations and businesses have started talking about Gross National Happiness. They are focusing on building work places that people would be happy being part of. To be happy is to be in the present moment – to be mindful. This mindfulness can be instilled through the powerful practice of yoga and pranayama. This daily practice roots them and grounds them – preparing them for the rigor of leadership that they face in their jobs after school. Several business schools have incorporated the practice of meditation into their every day routine. Many others are calling this practice mindfulness and incorporating it in various forms in their curriculum. It can also be taught by practices such as a sharing circle where all stakeholders join hands for a minute and say a prayer and then share different learning or experiences with each other. This is a powerful way of healing, increasing awareness and learning to be in the present moment at least for some time during the day.
Ethics and decision making
Finally, long term success is possible only when leaders are ethical about the choices they make. Most senior leaders will come to cross roads and ethical dilemmas will color every journey. In today’s complex work place it is important to teach students exactly what constitutes a white collar crime and how far-reaching the repercussions of seemingly innocuous acts could be. While ethics cannot be ‘taught’ to this age group but the factors influencing decision making and self leadership definitely can be part of their learning experience. Today theatre experts are joining hands with leadership schools to help students appreciate the difficulty that real world ethical dilemmas can pose. They get a better understanding of themselves and can apply this to a real world situation when it comes their way. An innovative course for this aspect is GVV (Giving Voice to Values) – developed by Babson in partnership with Yale and Aspen. As the name suggests it raises the question of speaking up for what you know is right and teaches this through a combination of case studies, discussions, coaching and role play. There are several case studies being deployed as part of courses such as governance, corporate policy, ethics in the workplace and these make for excellent discussion. In these discussions, students appreciate that there are varied points of view and learn to work with an open mind. These discussions also give participants a platform to talk about their value system and this too strengthens their beliefs.
These skills of compassion, mindfulness and ethics are what make leaders inspiring. Their joy is maximized in heightening their compassion, being self aware and understanding the grey areas of decision making in an ethical context.
Gandhi said in 1930 that “There is not a single virtue which aims at, or is content with, the welfare of the individual alone. Conversely, there is not a single moral offence, which does not affect many others besides the offender. Hence, whether an individual is good or bad is not merely his own concern but really the concern of the whole community, nay of the whole world.” If future leaders study carefully and imbibe the principles of compassion, mindfulness and ethics, the entire eco-system will be revitalized and we will all accomplish more than we could have thought possible.