Making Futures Journal
Crafting the Future of Ethical Leadership
Can the event of making itself create empathic leaders who are capable of building socially responsible supply chains?
Business Schools need to Change their Approach
Historically, business schools have adopted a largely information-led approach to management education. This perspective follows from the preferences of logical empiricism (LE) – as an account of the relationship between knowledge and the world, rational choice (RC) – as an account of how people exercise knowledge in practice, and agency theory (AT) – as an account of how shareholders and executives relate to each other. This bias towards the “LERCAT” paradigm has resulted in business schools, and their graduates, typically approaching learning from the perspective of linear causality, resulting in several generations of business school graduates who are, as Colby et al identify (2013, p.31), “purely linear thinkers who see only one-way causation” (Colby et al, 2011, p.31).
In recent times, this epistemological paradigm has, rightly so, received much criticism (see Eckhardt, & Wetherbe, 2014, for example). Management education has been accused of failing to prepare students for the ‘real world’ (McDonald, 2017) and not developing the managerial and interpersonal skills needed by employers and wider society (see Hesseldenz, 2012; Azevedo et al, 2012; Mihail & Kloustiniotis, 2014). Beyond the academic area, global events, such as the financial crises and corporate scandals, have also, and rightly so, put the role of business schools in society under much closer scrutiny. This has stirred up consciousness towards alternative teaching viewpoints and methods (Statler et al, 2015), including the use of humanities and arts in the business school classroom.
With a clearer purpose to foster inspired and impactful learning, there is increased pressure for business schools and providers of management education to shift their worldview from organization-centric and profit-focused towards a more human-centric and purpose-focused perspective. This, we suggest, will place greater emphasis on a humanistic paradigm than on the prevailing economist one, and will affirm that the pursuit of human dignity and wellbeing, alongside planetary health, are now the ultimate goals of business activity.
Indeed, such values are clearly outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals; the universal goals that are shaping business practices and the context for global business. Specially, SDG8 – decent work and economic growth – and SDG12 – sustainable production and consumption – are particularly relevant here, and are helping, on a broad scale, to shape the future of management education towards collective economic, planetary and social health and equality. At the next level, the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) seek specifically to transform management education by bringing the SDGs into the business school curricula and develop responsible leaders as key decision-makers. This puts business schools and their pedagogies at the heart of the future of responsible leadership and ethical business practices.
Experiential Learning Works
The Artful Leader
Crafting Care into the Business School Classroom
Empathy, Craft and Responsible Leadership
Drawing parallels with care, empathy has been identified as one of the most important leadership skills of the 21st Century (Clark, Robertson & Young, 2019) and also as a critical predictor of responsible leadership in light of the sustainable development goals (Voegtlin et al, 2019). Research on how empathy can be developed, however, has not kept pace with the multitude of definitions and measurement approaches and thus, offers a new research opportunity. We assert – based on forthcoming evidence – that the practice of making and craft production has, similarly to the evidence on care, the potential to evoke empathy and, more specifically, empathic leaders who are focused on social good. Next, we provide applied examples of cultural projects that have created care and empathy.
Within arts and culture there are many recent examples of projects designed specifically to put the ‘onlooker’ in another’s shoes to create care and empathy (Jeremy Deller, We’re Here Because We’re Here 2016; Crossroads Foundation @Davos 2019; The Empathy Museum). The reported success of these projects (Bazalgette, 2017) gives substance to our hypothesis that an empathetic engagement with materials and processes involved in craft production will teach a better understanding of the human experience within global supply chains.
Katz-Buonincontro (2011) suggest that business scholars frequently experiment with arts-based learning processes because they provide an occasion for students to cultivate empathy and an opportunity for them to exercise their creative imagination. This extends our mode of understanding and relating to the world beyond the LERCAT paradigm, which, as discussed previously, has been the backbone of management education for many years.
On a practical level, the search to cultivate human understanding among business students has led academic Katz-Buonincontro (2011) to explore a treasure box of different art forms including, amongst others, improvisational theatre, storytelling and poetry. These art forms involve texts and language, but they emphasize the performative dimension of language rather than the representational. The arts are, in this respect, not only effective tools to communicate information in the classroom; additionally, they can bring about playful exploration of the social and thus also the ethical aspects of organizations. By experiencing art in a business course, students can become more sensitive to the needs of others, and more imaginative in their responses to those needs.
In line of this evidence, we suggest that the field of contemporary art (perhaps more so than the traditional categories of heritage and classical fine arts) includes a wide variety of practices dealing directly with this collective dimension of human experience that may inspire future innovation in the business school classroom.
Embedding craft-based experiential learning into management education offers a safe space to practice the art of craftmanship, afterall, craft is about learning from experience (Tayler et al, 2015). For experiential learning to be effective, participants need to not only engage, but also be prepared to fail and learn from the experience. This is what Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck (2006) calls as a growth mindset.
Challenging Mindsets and Engaging Emotions through Educational Experiences
If education is ultimately the way to change leaders and business, then art- and craft-based pedagogies need to be embedded into the business school classroom. If we loop back and re-consider the historical context of learning, whereby rather than going to school, ancient crafts would be passed down through apprenticeships, it is not surprising to see that our brains are hardwired to respond effectively to art- and craft-based experiential lessons. It is hands-on (craft) work that makes us human, and as we have suggested throughout this paper, makes us value humanity. Crafting the future of ethical leadership is essential as responsible leadership in the 21st Century is all about realising our common humanity.
To conclude, it is people and their ability to evolve and adapt, rather than strategy, that most determines business success and sustainability, particularly in times of rapid change and volatility. The question for business leaders is how best to foster adaptability in themselves and their staff – the capability to deal with change, adversity, and unpredictability. The question for management educators is how best to foster this adaptability through pedagogy. Our answer – craft-based experiential learning. Responsible leadership in the 21st Century is all about realising our common humanity. Embedding craft, craft practices and craftmanship into management education offers a way to build empathic leaders who are capable of building care into their organization and socially responsible supply chains beyond.