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Nightmares, Dreams and Business Decisions : Teaching Ethical Values for Leadership Development

As a decision scientist specializing in ethical values, I have been drawn to leadership development in a difficult and rather painful manner. Taking an analytical and systematic approach to ethical values in business decision, I was to uncover an array of nightmarish considerations. Think about it. Which leader could honestly face the contribution of business to the current destruction of our natural habitat? With whom can you joyfully discuss the subversion of the public sphere using powerful influence practices or manipulative techniques? What sort of emotions arise when one share personal situations of corruption, intimidation or coercion? You are likely to arouse strong and negative emotions. In my experience, most business people avert thinking about it too much. This avoidance of a direct conscience of the unethical aspects of business turns executives into a reactive mode. They still think a lot but their cognition is trapped in various forms of denial, rationalization and externalization of their locus of control. By constructing these protections, they also isolate themselves from the source of future and dramatic problems. They are preparing themselves for bad surprises. In my executive teaching about “Values, Ethics and Leadership in Business Decisions”, I create situations where emotions are close to the real situations and I attempt to establish the trust that is necessary for them to dare experiencing in the classroom the unethical person they can be. I then share a series of analytical tools to uncover the specific logics of ethical values in business decisions at the cognitive, behavioral and communication levels and we work on strengthening their ability to be proactive in front of these difficult situations. Months later, I may receive feedback that these experiences succeeded in empowering them to be the ethical person they wanted to be in crucial decisions.

Along the years, my own development lead me towards being less judgmental, giving more space to the participants and their values, while feeling less the need to impose my own values on others. In this manner, I reduced the rate of reactance behaviors and increased my ratings. It is true that the context also helped me, the prevalence of unethical behaviors in public business discourses having increased. Still, these sessions take energy from me. I was in need of a more direct relation with the positive self in each participant. This pushed me to creating sessions where dreams will balance nightmares.

My intention in “Dreaming and Visioning Sessions” is to connect participants with the source of their motivation and help them clarify their vision for the life of their dreams. These “quasi-spiritual” dimensions become additional layers, below and above, for their decision-making process. Hence, my objective remains to empower participants to take decisions that reflect their own values and aspirations. Even if the level of participants’ commitment is often very high, the childish connotation of the word “dreams” for what could be conceptualized as mere imagination leaves space for those who want to live the experience lightly. Also, the distinct use of the words “dreams” and “objectives” allows some distance with the fear of failing. These strictly experiential sessions are structured as a series of exercises about 1) connecting with the past, 2) dreaming the future, 3) distinguishing shared and non-shared values and 4) building a vision with concrete bold actions. My explicit input along the process is kept to the minimum: I merely give instructions before each exercise and ask participants what they have learned afterwards. This allows me to dedicate myself to observing the processes, being present when someone needs it and keeping the group together when appropriate. It turns out that dreams, objectives, values and concrete decisions that are uncovered are rather fundamental. Over the hundred or so participants that I observed during AMP sessions at INSEAD, it seems that a great majority dream of someone that would love them or continue to do so, of an harmonious combination of their personal life with their professional life, of a social context where their values could be aligned with the ones of the community they are part of, and of opportunities to contribute to others. The diversity of the bold concrete actions they identify is high but many say the first thing they will do is talking with their partner about the result of the session. Since the start of my teaching a year ago, these elective sessions seem to have had an impact on participants. They are happy to find there an opportunity to dedicate time to an integrative decision-making process about the conduct of their life. It is too early for me to have a sense of any lasting effect but these sessions have already contributed to my own development. I feel more balanced in my teaching of ethical values in business decision-making, thanks to the direct observation of executives who better see who they want to become and feel strong in their capabilities to move towards the life of their dreams.

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