Sunday, March 6, 2011

Striving for Ethical Improvement

Hard to believe but we are approaching the end of FY term 5 here at Darden. The month of February flew by in the blink of an eye and already spring's bloom is upon us shortly here in Charlottesville.

The most thought-provoking class for me this term has been Business Ethics. We focus on cases with very difficult answers, such as whether natural gas companies should continue hydraulic fracturing in the face of uncertain harm to local drinking water or whether an airline should fire a pilot who is eventually certain to acquire a genetically-transmitted disease. Certainly I have never faced decisions of such magnitude in my lifetime, and I always feared receiving an "ethical dilemma" question in one of my business school interviews -- thankfully one never came up. Because of my general lack of such situations to date, this class is a great learning opportunity for me.

Thankfully, teaching my section is Ed Freeman, a teaching all-star and one of the thought leaders in the Ethics field. Freeman has a skill for steering the classroom discussion to the most difficult issues of each case and always seems to have a counterpoint no matter which side of an ethics argument you take. His style forces us to prioritize our values and develop robust moral frameworks for trying to tackle ethical issues.

Recently, we were asked to craft a "Personal Vision Statement" to think more about the kind of leaders and people we aspire to be and to articulate our values and considerations that we intend to guide our careers and lives. The assignment gave us an opportunity to reflect on the personal meaning of Darden's mission statement: To become a principled leader for the world of practical affairs.

I wrote a draft in which I tried to describe my values and the character I wish to cement. My vision statement, I feel, should be able to survive the "publicity test", so I've posted below. Comments certainly welcome...

Jonathan Harris – Personal Vision Statement

In the year 2036, when I am 53 years old, I want to be able to reflect on my life and affirm that I served as a valuable person in the lives of other people.  I want to be a person grounded in strong family values with enduring relationships both personally and professionally.  I want to be an integral part of my community, trusted and respected for my honesty and reliability.  I want to make decisions not solely based on narrow self-interests but also guided by the interests of those who I know and love.

            In business, I want to be a reputable partner and a trusted advisor to others.  When people ask me for guidance, I want to answer truthfully and in their best interest.  When a conflict of interest exists between me and a trusted party, I want to be mature enough to acknowledge this transparently.  I want to treat my business colleagues fairly.

            In my personal life, I want to live authentically in concert with my values and ideals.  I wish to abide by the golden rule: “Do unto others as you have them do unto you.”  I want those closest to me to regard me as a man of my word, responsible for his actions and how those actions affect others.  I want to be described as a man who was generous with his time and gives willingly to others.  I want to act with compassion towards my family and friends.  I want to be regarded as an optimist, a man who sees the glass as half-full rather than half-empty and works to find solutions, not being stuck by conventional wisdom.  I want to be seen as a man of action who worked tirelessly to impact positive change and was not bound by the status quo.

            Finally, I want to be known as a man who acts consistently when faced with difficult situations and does not rationalize compromising his moral framework to fit the situation.  I want my actions to pass the publicity test – there will be no skeletons in my closet and I will be able to talk honestly about my decisions because I will have nothing to hide.  This means I will have acted consistently with integrity, with the strength to act according to my beliefs even in difficult situations.  I will hold myself accountable for mistakes and acknowledge that I am not perfect, though I have continually strived to be.

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