Educating the MBA Beyond Ethics, to Business Spirituality?

13 03 2009

Ayn Rand is no doubt turning over in her grave! But my dad, the business management and ethics professor for 30+ years at a major university, isn’t. In the Chronicle of Higher Education online, if you can open it without subscribing, see M.B.A. Students Learn to Connect With Something Bigger Than the Bottom Line:

The course, “Spirituality and Business Leadership,” is offered at Santa Clara University’s Leavey School of Business to both M.B.A. students and executives, some of whom travel from around the country to audit it. The seminar focuses on the spiritual lives of business leaders and the impact they have on organizations. It’s a subject that not only intrigues the students, but also shapes their perspective on the economic downturn.

For years, Mr. Delbecq, a professor of management, met people through his consulting work who would ask if he ever dealt with the inner lives of leaders. He told them the business school offered a class on ethics, but they were looking for something more. Mr. Delbecq, who says he didn’t even know what the word “spirituality” really meant, used a sabbatical to design the course. He started teaching it in 2000.

The course explores business leadership as a calling, a kind of work that does not require the leader to ignore the spiritual side of life. It examines how leaders fall from grace when they give in to hubris and greed, and there has been no shortage of recent real-life examples. Students have watched the Madoff scandal unfold and heard the president decry Wall Street bonuses and Congress chide auto executives for traveling to Washington in private jets.

Almost daily now, students hear about the failure of business models that Mr. Delbecq says were based on pride or greed rather than providing a good service. The course helps the students recognize that they have been seduced by some of these same ideas, Mr. Delbecq says, and it provides them with a new understanding of what makes their work valuable.

“Profits are part of the business game just as body contact is part of football,” he tells his class. “But profits are not the ultimate goal of business, just as being tackled is not the goal of football. Providing an important service or product that society needs is the goal, and profits are a measure of doing so efficiently.”

To counter the temptation to chase profits, the course emphasizes spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditation.

The course has given one student, Bryan C. McNary, a different perspective on the recession. “It’s a time for people to be introspective, to figure out where you want to go,” he says. . . Everyone is expected to do more as the company tries to cut costs. The spirituality class has helped him face that challenge. Mr. McNary learned to meditate during the course and finds it energizes him for his long work days.

Several other students also say the meditation practice has helped them . . . Ms. Winkler, chairwoman of the Winkler Group, a firm that helps companies improve their marketing efficiency, says she still meditates for 40 minutes each day. Meditating helps her stay calm and allows her to diffuse tense business situations—an advantage in the downturn, Ms. Winkler says.

“Clearly, there’s an enormous amount of fear and anxiety. If you’re not making decisions from fear and anxiety, you make much better decisions.”

I might call it philosophy or psychology rather than spirituality, but whatever the label, Education ought to emphasis that last lesson in every major for every student imo. K-12 and home education included. Might make the whole education process so humane and attractive that compulsion wouldn’t be needed, hmmm. . .

Now if we could just figure out how to help paranoid parents and those who pander to them, get that lesson through their heads too —

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12 responses

13 03 2009
COD

I took a philosophy and business class in undergrad – taught by a real live Marxist too. For my midterm I had to write a paper that would convince a capitalist that Marxism was the better economic system.

13 03 2009
JJ

And look how well it worked on you, she said dryly —
😉

13 03 2009
JJ

SOmeone on cable news is reminding us all that FDR’s “fear” speech was about the economy, not war. Right?

13 03 2009
Crimson Wife

Santa Clara is a Jesuit university, so that’s why it’s spirituality rather than philosophy.

The current issue of The Atlantic Monthly has an interesting article that’s kind of the flip side of this. I personally didn’t find the author’s arguments to be all that persuasive, but it’s definitely a POV on Christianity I’d never before considered.

14 03 2009
JJ

Hey, that IS interesting, thanks!

I liked the title of the book it’s adapted from, too. 🙂
The Evolution of God.

Here’s a link that may be related to the author’s thesis, from Religious Tolerance dot org”
The Shift Away from Christianity and Other Organized Religions
(note: the survey data on which this is based, are older.)

17 03 2009
Meg

DH taught at SCU for a number of years and it’s the most laid back “religious” school I have ever seen/heard of before. DH credited the Jesuits for the atmosphere.

I was actually enrolled in their MBA program while we were there – LOL another life.

Don’t remember the course though, I was just starting out and probably was looking beyond the requirements.

17 03 2009
JJ

Meg as an MBA would be a quite creative, humane and multitasking mom-type of MBA that Wall Street could have used lately imo —

Have I mentioned lately how much I love your avatar? Such an intelligent face.

17 03 2009
Meg

LOL – she’s a hound. She’s the most airheaded ADHD dog I’ve ever had (Growing up we mostly had working breeds).

Sweet as can be, but I CAN NOT let her off-leash even at 10 years old. She takes off and I’m all over the neighborhood trying to convince her that she wants to return home. no fun.

17 03 2009
JJ

Then the only explanation must be, in this picture she was 100% riveted by something she cares deeply about, either your face or maybe a ball?

17 03 2009
Meg

Food!

17 03 2009
JJ

😀

22 09 2009
JJ

I for One Welcome Our New Objectivist Overlords:

I agree that liberal and left academics (and their students) would be better off if they engaged seriously with conservative intellectuals, so long as the conservatives in question are actually intellectuals (Edmund Burke yes, David Horowitz not so much).

Why, just yesterday I read Jon Chait’s essay on Ayn Rand in order to understand why all the Objectivists I’ve known seem to believe that they are Super Geniuses. In the course of learning more about that, I also learned why it is that many of these Super Geniuses believe that the rich are rich solely because they work hard, and the poor are poor because they do not. (The disabled, meanwhile, fall under the general heading of “the unproductive,” and since it would be immoral to reward unproductive people with access to a common pool socialist confiscation of goods and services even if their lack of productivity, unlike that of the poor, isn’t entirely their fault, it’s off to the private charities for them, and good luck.)

Then I read Glenn Greenwald on why Some People don’t want Other People to have houses and health care and other luxuries, like the new “cellular” phones and “color” televisions. So yeah, I’d have to say that it’s important to study Ayn Rand and her influence on American culture, regardless of whether she’s properly “conservative” or not.

It might even be worth studying Rand’s influence in academe, since, as Chait notes, “[t]oday numerous CEOs swear by Rand. One of them is John Allison, the outspoken head of BB&T, who has made large grants to several universities contingent upon their making Atlas Shrugged mandatory reading for their students.”

And that is not all, oh no, that is not all!

One of those grants, awarded in March 2008, was a $2 million gift to the University of Texas-Austin to establish “to establish the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism.” The professor named to that chair appeared in the pages of the New York Times last November with a searing letter to the editor placing the blame for the global financial crisis squarely where it belongs—on excessive regulation of the financial markets . . .

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