Great Literature Makes Great Leaders

Forget about case studies. “The Moral Leader,” a second-year elective at Harvard Business School is creating a buzz because it uses literature to study moral decision-making and leadership. In each class of this 13-session seminar, students study and debate iconic works of fiction, biography, autobiography or history to develop their own definition of moral leadership.

“One of the things I noticed, as so many of us in business do, is that some of the hardest leadership decisions are the ones that have moral or ethical stakes,” says senior lecturer Sandra Sucher, current instructor of the course. In her book “The Moral Leader: Challenges, Tools, and Insights,” Sucher encourages students and managers to confront fundamental moral challenges, develop skills in moral analysis and judgment, and come to terms with their own definition of moral leadership and how it can be translated into action. With source material as diverse as Machiavelli, Sophocles and the biography of Katherine Graham, the literature challenges MBAs to expand their understanding of the world and, as future leaders, their place in it.

“Based on my own experience,” Sucher says, “the course has been designed to explore practical questions that help us understand the moral domain and where morality and leadership intersect: ”˜What is the nature of a moral challenge?’ ”˜How do people ‘reason morally’?’ ”˜How is moral leadership different from leadership of any other kind?’”

As students grapple with these questions, they internalize moral leadership concepts and choices and develop the skills to pursue it in their careers and personal lives.

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