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Principled Leadership

By The Christians in Business, Jewish Business Students Association, and Latter-Day Saints Student Association  |  january, 2013, Issue 1

This article is a collaboration of CB, JBSA, and LDSSA student groups. It is one of a series of articles written with the intention to increase the dialogue on campus regarding the role of business in society and our duties as future leaders.

Congress's performance throughout the "fiscal cliff" fiasco certainly didn't earn it plaudits from the American people. In what can only be described as a detachment from reality, Congress waited until the "eleventh hour" to address the looming spending cuts and tax hikes. Then, rather than address the serious structural problems, they punted decision-making until February. Not surprisingly, a recent Gallop poll revealed that a historically low 18 percent of Americans approve of Congress. It appears that Congress is the last place the American people can to turn for leadership. But according to sources ranging from CNN to the Financial Trust Index, there is one group that is perhaps even less trusted to lead our economy out of the current tepid recovery – business leaders. As MBAs, and future business leaders, this unpopularity should give us pause. At Chicago Booth, we proudly (and constantly) question everything. Thus, what is the source of this mistrust? Fewer than 50 years ago, an overwhelming 80 percent of the American public viewed big business as a "good thing" for the country. What is that number today?

A Chicago Booth MBA comes with it the responsibility of leadership: To develop, promote, and embody the ideas that will shape the future of business. But what should the future look like? What ideas related to regaining the public trust and the role of business in society are worth promoting? Furthermore, what are the boundaries of ethical behavior and social responsibility in the context of the workplace? Over the ensuing weeks, the authors of this article will explore these fundamental questions regarding the role of business leaders and the purpose of an MBA. We hope to bring forth tough topics and spark productive disagreement. Rather than proselytizing any one viewpoint, our goal is to increase the dialogue on these important questions across the campus. To help us reach our goal, we will begin and end each article with your thoughts as captured in survey data. The results of each survey will be shared in subsequent articles.

Related to these open questions, the Aspen Institute regularly conducts a survey measuring the attitudes of current MBA students. One question asks respondents to rate the importance of various factors to them in the first year after graduation. Coming in as the fifth most important factor, right after "earning a high income," is "having a positive impact on society." Encouragingly, the percent of respondents rating this latter factor as "very important" was up about 3 percent from the 2002 survey, but more interesting is the peculiar pattern found in both surveys: This rate decreases from first to second year. In other words, using our degrees to positively impact society becomes less important to us over the course of our program.

The first survey question: Why does "having a positive impact on society" become less important over the course of an MBA? To take the two-min survey, please visit We hope you will add your voice to the conversation.

Last Updated 1/16/13
Last Updated 1/16/13