ISB Updates

Ethics in Business Forum Incites Debate on Authenticity

Is it ever acceptable to break the rules? What drives behaviour and ethical leadership? These and many other questions were raised at the Ethics in Business Forum’s curtain raiser, which brought together a group of 60 students, faculty and staff in a highly interactive session on “Inciting Authenticity,” led by Rajiv C Lochan.

The Ethics in Business Forum’s vision is to become a vibrant platform for exploring dilemmas in ethical leadership, corporate responsibility and responsible value creation. Lochan, who also supports the group as an advisor along with faculty advisor Professor Abhijeet Vadera, advocated the use of conversation and introspection as tools to find answers to questions that might arise in the practice of ethical leadership. He described the learning process as a knowledge staircase, in which one must steadily climb the steps and move from being “unconsciously unskilled” to becoming “unconsciously skilled.” Lochan also elaborated on “behavioural funnel,” that comprises awareness, judgment, and intention, and ultimately drives human behaviour and ethics in a given situation.

The Indian growth story has brought to the forefront the need to develop responsible business practices. India is expected to be among the top five nations (ranked by GDP) in the next 15 years. This, according to Lochan, will only create greater temptations for business leaders to tread less desirable paths. The rise in the number of Indians in positions of power will lead to a corresponding increase in incentives and pressures to perform.

The session began with a discussion on breaking rules, using the example of breaking a red light at 5 am. The two traffic engineers in the audience vehemently opposed any possible excuses for consciously choosing to break a traffic signal. Some participants, on the other hand, questioned the applicability of a traffic signal in the absence of traffic, thereby shifting the onus of decision making to the individual. This apparently simplistic example ignited a debate on more complex dilemmas.

Lochan went on to talk about the malleability of morality and why it takes more than cognitive energy to control impulsive, unethical actions. He also highlighted the importance of laying down professional and personal value systems to light the way when one is confronted with more challenging and less obvious “right vs. right” dilemmas. Lochan invited audience members to offer their opinions on two real life right vs. right situations from his professional experience concerning dilemmas of truth vs. loyalty and justice vs. mercy. Participants actively drew upon their own experiences and judgment as they debated the two situations and considered the subtle nuances in both cases. The discussion triggered further examples from the audience, such as confronting a mentor who misrepresents one’s findings to an executive during an important meeting, and dealing with an underperforming but once exceptional staff member. As the 90-minute session drew to a close, some sceptics remained in the audience, but there was little doubt that a new way of thinking about the question of authenticity had begun.