Is it Time for a Leadership Oath?
A few weeks ago, I was driving the well-worn path between my office outside Boston and New York and listening to one of my favorite podcasts. The host mentioned the existence of an MBA Oath and my ears perked up.
After a long string of consequences for unethical business behavior, including the collapse of the housing market in 2008, the Enron Scandal, and Bernie Madoff, to name a few, a group of Harvard MBA graduates decided they did not like the direction their future profession was headed. Inspired by a long tradition of codes of conduct to govern other professions, this group penned an MBA Oath to guide ethical competency for those entering the business community. In their own words, The MBA Oath aims to “Inspire and support MBAs who commit to creating value responsibly and ethically, challenge MBAs to work with a higher professional standard, and create a public conversation about professionalizing and improving management.”
Inspiring, challenging and improving the world of business is certainly speaking my language! After a quick voice memo to remind myself to do a little research, I continued my pilgrimage to the holy land of all things business and thought of all the wonderful words of wisdom that might be contained in an unofficial code of conduct for executives.
Imagine my surprise when I read the Oath, which over 15,000 emerging business leaders have signed since 2009, and discovered the word “leadership” does not occur once. The Oath recognizes that MBA graduates have a purpose to “lead people and manage resources,” but in 236 words describing a business leader’s role in society, there’s not one mention of leadership skills, requirements, or responsibilities. Aside from a vague suggestion to “…invest in developing myself and others, helping the management profession continue to advance and create sustainable and inclusive prosperity” there are no guidelines or sworn statements that speak specifically to the leadership responsibilities associated with enterprise. What a disappointment!
Listen, I get it. Not all MBA graduates become leaders, and oaths are designed to be general enough to apply to a broad cross-section of individuals. However, I cannot help but feel the MBA Oath misses an important opportunity to enumerate and define executive leadership responsibility. While it does establish ethical guidelines for emerging business leaders in society, the Oath lacks sufficient attention toward the internal communities in which most executives operate.
At the bare minimum, the MBA Oath should include language about leadership responsibility. I humbly submit an eighth promise for consideration.
I will recognize my responsibility as a leader to cultivate potential in results and relationships, and strive to remain committed to both, never at the expense of the other.
When I think about every single business calamity that precipitated the need for an oath to govern the business profession, prioritizing results ahead of relationships was the source of all unethical behavior. Our unadulterated commitment to getting ahead, achieving, and outperforming the competition left the human side of business on the chopping block. Nearly a century of ambition, from the Industrial Revolution to the Start-Up Era, has rewarded business leaders who create prosperity at all costs. We looked the other way when employees paid the price for unscrupulous behavior and celebrated those who delivered a healthy bottom line. It doesn’t take an MBA to see where that got us.
To thrive in a new era of modern business, executives must embrace a dual responsibility that includes a commitment to achieving results and a responsibility to treat people well while you do it. It’s just not enough to deliver profits while managing losses anymore. Modern business leaders are now held accountable for delivering results and fostering healthy relationships in the process. We have reached a new professional epoch. We are now in the Relationship Era.
Successful leadership in the Relationship Era requires bosses to fully embrace a new role in corporate society where they cultivate potential in results and relationships at the same time. Perhaps it is time for a Leadership Oath to govern conduct and ethical behavior. If you agree to absolve us of any official oath-writing responsibility, we humbly believe a Leadership Oath should include promises like:
I will accept my responsibility to drive results and cultivate career potential in myself and others.
I will learn and understand my personal values, my company values, and courageously lead in a manner consistent with behaviors and attitudes that reflect those values.
I will remember the human side of leadership and create time to nurture meaningful professional partnerships, both inside and outside my organization.
I will develop leadership fluency and adapt my approach to meet the unique demands of the individuals I lead and the conditions I manage.
I will offer and accept feedback from those with aligned goals and embrace it as an opportunity to foster potential.
I will align goals, strategies, and deliverables associated with my company mission, and demonstrate the ability to adjust between big picture and detail focus with my team.
I will pay attention to signs of distress in myself and on my team, including stress, overwhelm and burnout, and commit to alleviating these sources of professional limitation.
Leadership Lessons with Danielle was created to inspire business leaders with the insights, resources, strategies and solutions they need to thrive in a new professional age that prioritizes relationship cultivation. We combine organizational experience, coaching expertise, and psychology education to inform dialog about what effective modern leadership looks like and expand leadership competency to include a relationship-oriented perspective. Ultimately, we embrace an audacious goal of creating a world of better leaders, one relationship at a time.
While we may not require an oath to join our learning community, we do require a baseline interest in cultivating potential through the work you do. We believe the best leaders understand the correlation between developing potential and living a meaningful professional life. We hope to empower leaders to nurture partnerships they are proud of and create a leadership life they love. Your success is our success, and we are here to inspire the best in you. Welcome! Class is in session.
Danielle Terranova is the voice behind Leadership Lessons with Danielle.
She has been an executive coach since 2015 and owner of Terranova Consulting, LLC since 2019.