Mary C. Gentile Discusses Her Approach to Teaching Ethics
Mary C. Gentile has been involved in business education for more than 25 years. Her work — for Harvard Business School, the Aspen Institute, and now Babson College — has focused on the best ways to teach people to respond to ethical and moral dilemmas. Gentile, a senior research scholar at Babson and director of the business curriculum "Giving Voice to Values," began to notice inadequacies in ethical training, particularly among business students. This led to a "crisis of faith,” she said. “I wondered if teaching business ethics was unethical."
Gentile discussed her new book, Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right (www.marygentile.com) in a special conversation with Dean Sharon Oster at Yale SOM on November 29. She spoke of how Yale had helped with her work, referring to the school and the Aspen Institute as founding partners in the "Giving Voice to Values" pedagogical approach. And she explained what she believes is a crucial breakthrough in preparing future leaders to successfully deal with the dilemmas they will face.
The key, she told the audience, was to break from the old way of teaching ethics, which she described as focusing on awareness and analysis. A person recognizes the ethical dilemma and then searches for a theorist such as Aristotle to help understand it. The problem with this approach, she said, was that it doesn’t teach people how to act successfully and doesn’t give them the opportunity to rehearse in a peer-coaching setting. In her research, Gentile found that people who were most able to deal with an ethical dilemma had practiced how they would approach such an issue, and often gone so far as talk it out, which she calls pre-scripting, creating a kind of "muscle memory" that can build confidence and comfort.
Gentile’s book articulates ways to put this approach to values-driven leadership into practice and the "Giving Voice to Values" curriculum (www.givingvoicetovalues.org) provides cases, exercises, readings and teaching plans for use in business education. She has created a new kind of case study that differs from the traditional case in two key ways. First, it’s very short, often just one page. "And instead of ending with the question, what should the manager do? the GVV cases end at the point when the protagonist has already decided and the question is how to get it done," she said. "We give people the opportunity to literally practice and pre-script. And there is an explicit set of tools and principles we share to help them do so."