Yale SOM on MBA Oath: Forget Promises, Teach Values

Three professors from Yale School of Management generated a lot of buzz and commentary in the B-school universe earlier this week with their piece on teaching ethics to MBAs, published Monday by the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Rodrigo Canales and Dr. Cade Massey are assistant professors, and Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski is an associate professor, of organizational behavior at Yale SOM. Their article Promises Aren’t Enough: Business Schools Need to Do a Better Job Teaching Students Values, addresses the continued hot topic of an MBA Oath.

While the professors laud the notion of future business leaders acting ethically and keeping greed at bay, they believe “such oaths sound much like chastity vows taken by thousands of teens every year. The problem in both cases is not a lack of sincerity, but a failure to adequately prepare for the moment of truth.”

The danger with such oaths, they say, is that they create a false sense of moral inoculation, and MBAs who take an ethics oath without enough supporting leadership education are likely more vulnerable to ethical breaches.

The professors discuss how situational forces drive behavior to a surprising extent, what business schools need to do to effectively teach leadership and ethics, and why experiential learning is the best way to prepare students for the difficult decisions they will face—often under enormous pressure.

To read more from the Yale SOM community regarding the MBA ethics pledge, see our piece from May which explores the areas of concern that Yale SOM students and faculty have with a business oath.

Deans Judy Olian of UCLA Anderson School of Management and Rich Lyons of Berkeley Haas School of Business tweeted their recommendation of the article and are in agreement with much of what Canales, Massey and Wrzesniewski  put forth. Check out the full article and leave us a comment letting us know your thoughts below.

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