As HBS utilizes the case method, heated debates are commonplace in our classrooms. In most cases, however, as we learn analytical frameworks and concepts, divergent opinions start to converge and it’s not uncommon that we reach some manner of consensus by the end of the class.
However, there is one class in which we seldom reach a consensus – Leadership & Corporate Accountability (LCA). This class deals with various kinds of ethical dilemmas, which we may encounter in ‘the real world”. Sometimes it’s about business, and sometimes it concerns our personal lives. Although we examine various frameworks, we rarely reach a consensus because the decision-making ultimately depends on each student’s “moral compass”. Consequently, the class ends in discord.
Here is an abridged example of an LCA case:
You are a first year junior trader at an investment bank. Your supervisor, a senior associate, is a very skillful trader on your team. She is known for her aggressiveness and hotheadedness, but her track record is spotless. One day, she and you pitched a big forward exchange deal to one of your company’s old clients, and the client showed interest in the deal. During the pitch, your supervisor exaggerated the complexity of the deal and challenging market conditions, and requested an unusually high transaction fee. Lacking the knowledge in forward exchange deals, the client believed her and you, and almost agreed on the deal. After you came back to your office, you got a phone call from the client, saying “Is that fee level usual? Can you send us any data to validate that fee?” You talked about it to the supervisor, and she gave you other product’s historical fee data, which was very misleading to your client. In an irritated tone, she said, “Don’t ask me any questions. Just send it right now.” You think, if you send the data to the client, not only will it deceive them, but it may also run contrary to your company’s core value, “client first”. But if you don’t send it, not only will your team potentially lose a huge profit opportunity, but your supervisor may get pissed off,” devalue” you, and you may lose your job in the first year. In this situation, what would you do?
It seems that there is no one right answer, and we were actually totally split on this case. But the purpose of this class is to build our own foursquare moral compass by repeatedly tackling difficult dilemmas. These are our professor’s words – “When you become a CEO, every single issue that comes to you is gray. Nothing is black or white.”
You can buy the case here.