April 25, 2017

How to find your voice and lead with integrity

Professor Mary Gentile, visiting scholar at Notre Dame.

Professor Mary Gentile, visiting scholar at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame’s Giving Voice To Values curriculum asks students: What do you do and say once you know what you think is right?

The challenge facing those committed to ethical professional practice is not just one of recognising ethical issues when they arise – the real challenge is a post-decision-making one that demands preparing students for action, according to Professor Mary Gentile, visiting scholar at Notre Dame University.

Her question is this: What do you do and say, once you know what you think is right?

Professor Gentile shared her ground-breaking approach to preparing leaders and managers for values-driven decision making as a guest of the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia this month.

Professor Gentile, from the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, is creator and director of Giving Voice to Values (GVV), an innovative ethics education curriculum she developed at Harvard University in co-operation with the support of the Yale University School of Management.

Professor Gentile draws on both the actual experience of business practitioners as well as cutting edge research, filling a critical gap in our understanding of how to promote ethical practice in the workplace. Rather than focusing on ethical analysis, GVV focuses on ethical implementation and asks the question: “What if I were going to act on my values? What would I say and do?”

The GVV curriculum was initially designed for use in faculties and schools of business, but staff at Notre Dame and elsewhere recognised it could be adapted for use within other professional disciplines.

Notre Dame has since been adapting the curriculum for use within the Schools of Nursing, Law, Medicine, Arts and Sciences and Education.

IES Director, Professor Sandra Lynch, said Professor Gentile’s action-oriented approach to building ethical cultures in workplaces and more generally to living an ethically defensible life was thoughtful, innovative and uplifting.

“It focuses on developing the competence and the confidence to put the values we hold into practice and we at Notre Dame believe it will be invaluable in the teaching of professional ethics,” Professor Lynch said.

Notre Dame’s invitation to Professor Gentile extends a relationship that first began in 2011. At that time academics at Notre Dame were exploring ways to teach ethics that might best engage and resonate with students to evoke a commitment to ethical action, as well as to promote a deeper awareness and understanding of the Catholic Church’s commitment to such action, as guided by Catholic Social Teaching.

Professor Gentile visited Notre Dame again in 2012 and has returned this month to spend two week’s working intensively on ethics curriculum development and pedagogy with staff.

Professor Gentile is well-equipped to help university staff address this challenge. In her ten year tenure at the Harvard Business School, she was one of the principal architects of Harvard’s Leadership, Ethics and Corporate Responsibility curriculum.

In 2015 Professor Gentile was named as one of the 100 Most Influential Individuals in Business Ethics by Ethisphere and recognised with a Top Thought Leader Lifetime Achievement Award by Trust Across America.

Currently in addition to directing the Giving Voice to Values curriculum, she is also Professor of Practice at University of Virginia-Darden School of Business. She has worked with many large companies, including Lockheed Martin and with government agencies such as the Pentagon in the US.

Her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, strategy+business, BizEd, CFO Magazine, and Risk Management. Giving Voice to Values has been featured in Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, Stanford Social Innovation Review, McKinsey Quarterly, and has been piloted in over 880 business schools and organisations globally.

Professor Gentile has also written several books on ethics and diversity including the book Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right (2010)*.

This book explains the curriculum and its distinctive focus on the implementation of ethical choices regarding right action in particular situations.

The goal of the Giving Voice to Values curriculum is to equip students with the skills and knowledge that will enable them to speak and act ethically and with integrity in professional practice and in life generally.

The thesis underlying the curriculum is that not enough people feel empowered to voice and act on their values in the workplace.

We are often able to recognise a conflict of values – when what we think is right action conflicts with the expectations of peers, clients, customers, patients, students or bosses.

However, we are less able to articulate our own position and to decipher a course of action which enables us to act on our values in an effective way; that is in a way that addresses and helps resolve an ethical conflict we have encountered and ensures that we avoid or minimise any systematic disadvantage that might accrue to us in the workplace as a consequence of our decision to act.

The focus of the Giving Voice to Values curriculum is on ways of raising issues of concern effectively; considering what we need to take into consideration, what we need to do and say in order to be heard when facing ethical conflicts in complex workplace or social contexts.

The curriculum encourages students to find alignment between an individual sense of purpose and the purpose of the organisation in which we work. A crucial aspect of its methodology is to provide opportunities for students to construct and practice responses to frequently heard reasons and rationalisations for not acting on one’s values.

Professor Gentile argues that the challenge facing those committed to ethical professional practice is not just one of recognising ethical issues when they arise or learning to think them through.

This is something that is usually done well in tertiary ethics classes. Rather, she argues that the challenge is a post-decision-making one that demands preparing students for action. Her question is this: What do you do and say, once you know what you think is right?

For more information on Giving Voice to Values visit nd.edu.au/events/2016/mary-gentile or email ies@nd.edu.auVisit givingvoicetovalues.org for more information on the curriculum.

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