That Old Harvard MBA Oath, Wisdom, and the Greater Good

| March 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

By: Elle Allison-Napolitano CDo good workopyright©2015, All RIghts Reserved


Inspired by a desire to win back public confidence and trust, values that were lost in a mudslide of scandals, swindles, and corporate greed, students from the 2009 graduating class of Harvard Business School wrote the MBA Oath. It opens with this paragraph:

As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can create alone. Therefore, I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. I recognize my decisions can have far reaching consequences that affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and in the future.

At one time, the MBA Oath was a controversial conversation starter in business and economic communities as well as in the general public. Some business people embraced the idea of a code of ethics for managers; others feel that the code unfairly implies that most or even all managers seek profit at all costs. Others simply took a cynical view of the oath, suspicious that it was an insincere marketing ploy or is simply too little too late.

Notwithstanding the controversy, back in 2009 when the oath first went viral, I appreciated the reference to serving a greater good– a value associated with wisdom as identified by scholars such as Robert Sternberg (2000), Vivien Clayton (1978), Monika Ardelt (2007), and Randall & Kenyon (2001). Sternberg’s “balance theory” of wisdom seems to be particularly in line with the MBA oath. Sternberg’s theory describes wisdom as existing when people use their intelligence, creativity, and knowledge for a common good by balancing their personal interest with the interests of others and even the larger context over the long term as well as the short term. The tension between interpersonal and intrapersonal interests, according to Sternberg, is mitigated by values that most people would agree are good and helpful.

You don’t hear much about the MBA oath these days, but my bias is to recognize it as good and helpful. I mean, it sure can’t hurt to have more business leaders generating profits not just through any means, but through means that contribute positively to a greater good, now can it?

At the risk of appearing foolish myself or at least a bit naive, I am optimistic that a cadre of new and aspiring business leaders out there, embody the spirit of the Harvard MBA oath–even if they are unfamiliar with the oath itself. The bonus is that this spirited cadre will also make wisdom more visible, practical, common, and attainable for all.

Elle Allison-Napolitano, Ph.D. is founder of Wisdom Out.


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Category: BLOG, Elle Allison Napolitano, Harvard MBA Oath, The Greater Good, Wisdom in Leadership, Wisdom in Organizations

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