Markus Vinzent's Blog

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

New MA Ethical Leadership at King's College London

Professor Clemens Sedmak and me are starting in a few days with a new venture at King's College London: MA Ethical Leadership

Leadership is key to the many economic, social and cultural challenges of our time. The Financial Crisis is causally linked with leadership failures. There is a need to discover new roads to leadership training and ethical leadership. Job advertisements show that the interest in social skills, conflict management, capability and skills management has increased.  Personality matters. Most observers expect the current recession to be long and deep. Academia has not only to react to this situation by offering research and knowledge transfer, but to be proactive in thinking inventively about the combination of ethics and leadership, based on the rich experience of the past.
For years, business schools and corporate universities have been wired to focus on wealth creation. Their programs have largely ignored the creation of a business leadership mindset that is based on creating a “values framework”, inclusivity and sustainability. This has led to ignorance of responsibility, loss of values, diminishment of moral intelligence, and the erosion of  moral fibre. Some or all of these factors have in their own way contributed to the present economic crisis. This crisis, forshadowed in 2001, and re-ignited in late 2007, may provide insightful indication that the paradigms of leadership need to shift. It is encouraging to see that transformative initiatives have gained space on the agenda of corporate governance in many companies and organisations. The Global Compact, for instance, an international initiative mediated by the United Nations, sheds light on important standards that responsible leaders should seek (in the areas of labour conditions, environment, and anti-corruption, amongst others). Companies have indeed taken important steps to foster new values. The term “Corporate Social Responsibility” is largely used to address enterprises’ socially aware actions. But there is more to call for to initiate change and reform:
*       The 2009 “State of the Future Report“, issued by the Millennium Project (eds. Jerome C. Glenn, Theodore J. Gordon, Elizabeth Florescu), for instance, mentions the following statement as the most important, in the opinion of an extended group of experts: “Ethics becomes a key element in most work relations and economic exchanges”. This report – based on 6700 pages of research material – also mentions, as one of the 15 key global challenges: “How can the capacity to decide be improved as the nature of work and institutions change?”
*       The 2009 “Leadership Development in the US: Principles and Patterns of Best Practice” report prepared for Bertelsmann Foundation argues that personality development has become a crucial part of the most successful leadership training programs in the US private sector, while the non-profit and public sectors are currently moving in the direction of implementing more “second approach” practices and techniques in their executive education programmes.
*       The “Harvard Business Review” in its 07/2009 issue argues for the necessity to rethink leadership.
*       Several thought leaders raised critical questions about content and methodology in today’s business education and asked for a reform: e.g. Henry Mintzberg, Joel Podolney, Rakesh Khurana, e.g. (;;
It is possible to distinguish two fundamentally different approaches to studying and teaching leadership in modern academic research.
*       The first approach can be called “traditional”. It is based on a deeply-rooted stereotypical thinking patterns  about leadership, power and authority, including: theories based on physical strength, ruse and violence (e.g. Machiavellianism); Max Weber’s ideas on transactional versus transformational leaders; on different leadership styles (traditional, bureaucratic and charismatic), and on power (“the chance that an individual in a social relationship can achieve his or her own will even against the resistance of others”); some traits theories (e.g. Thomas Carlyle’s Great Man Theory – assuming that history is made by the people, who were pre-destined to become great leaders); some theories based on Behaviorism (B.F. Skinner et al) or on Social Darwinism (Ayn Rand). If we look at the assumptions of “traditional” theories, we notice certain commonalities: their frameworks are usually based on a “homo oeconomicus” model, a maximizing conception of the human being and a view of life and society based on self-interest and the inevitability of violent or destructive conflicts. According to these perspectives, leaders strategize and manipulate others in line with their own self interest.
*       The second approach to leadership research may be dubbed “innovative”, both because it is currently gaining wide recognition among researchers and practitioners and because of its focus, which is different from that of the “traditional” leadership theories. The “innovative” approach prioritizes such qualities as reflexivity, sustainable growth, and self mastery. Embedded in these frameworks is a broader vision of the human being, life and society. The research agenda focuses on methods enabling people and society to move toward transformation and integration. They emphasize the importance of recognizing that the most valuable tool a leader possesses is him- or herself, past, present and future; call attention to the critical role of self knowledge and finding out one’s strengths and limits; clarify the importance of developing oneself fully as a person (e.g., developing emotional, moral, social and religious intelligence); do not assume that a leader can select a style as if all styles suited everyone and style were something that can be put on like a dress or coat. Research priorities will include wholeness, synchronicity and unity on all levels through self-development on the individual level, as well as through policies overcoming particularisms and conflict at the societal level. Religious cultures have been discovered as one of the core ingrediences of the ethical make up of people, institutions and organisations.
The last decades have seen a major shift within the sphere of leadership towards the second approach. Many of the theories within it have already received wide recognition and become integral parts of leadership education and research programmes in the leading universities all over the world.
The parallel trend which we are currently witnessing is that the theories of the second group are becoming increasingly attractive for private companies as well as various organisations in social and political spheres. More and more business executives, social workers and political operatives are coming to realize the potential and benefits of developing such qualities of their employees as, for example, emotional intelligence, reflexivity and ethical awareness.
The literature basis covering “innovative” (“type 2 theories”) include authors such as: Pedro Arrupe, Brian Arthur, Anselm Bilgri, Robert Greenleaf, Joseph Jarworski, Brian Klemmer, Adam Kahane, Otto Scharmer, Barry Oshri, Peter Senge, Bill Torbert, Chris Warner, Notker Wolf, Benjamin Zander.
The focus will be on individual management and will encourage behaviour based on trust, empowerment, honesty, respect, integrity, authenticity, and empathy. The values to be developed and fostered by the MA in Ethical Leadership include:
*       Integrity: a high level of ethical awareness/ moral reasoning and a belief that financial success can be achieved in an ethical way
*       Honesty and trustworthiness: recognition of the fact that business does have responsibility to the broader society
*       Open-mindedness:  openness to critique from inside or outside the organization; openness to new ideas for change; questioning business as usual
*       Dignity at work: commitment to the growth and development of employees; respect for diversity and equal opportunities for all; a collaborative management style
*       Transparency: listening to others and encouraging diversity in views; promoting a new culture of dialogue with and among staff
*       Prudence and reflexivity: the ability to overcome patterns of self-deception and to lead an “examined life”.Responsibility and robust concern: the readiness and ability to accept leadership duties that call for generativity and an interest in other people’s well being.
*       Commitment to growth: the willingness to engage in the ongoing work of one’s personal character and development.
Core Course: “Leadership and Ethics: Leadership Ethics in a new Key” (40 credits course) – taught by Clemens Sedmak and Markus Vinzent
Compulsory Course 1: “Approaches to Leadership” (40 credits) – convened by Clemens Sedmak and Markus Vinzent but taught by various lecturers (covering a number of disciplines represented in the School of Arts and Humanities)
Compulsory Course 2: “Practicing Leadership” (20 credits) – convened by Clemens Sedmak and Markus Vinzent but input provided by invited practitioners (covering skills and exercises)
Options (20 credits):
* Truth and Reconciliation in Divided Societies (MA Conflict Resolution)
* Art of Management / Management of Art (MA Cultural and Creative Industries)
* Comparative Public Policy (European Studies Department)
* Contemporary Ethics (MA Ethics and Philosophy of Religion)


  1. This looks a wonderful degree: can it be made mandatory for all those currently involved in leadership and HR at King's College London?

  2. How should ethical leadership be taught? In the typical business school, this question would be interpreted, or “refurbished.” Can students be trained to become ethical leaders? While often conflated contemporaneously, these two questions are indeed distinct. Instructors, professors and school administrators should first decide which question is more relevant to their purposes. The question chosen should fit with the education, pedagogical method, and philosophy of education of not only the instructor or professor, but also the school itself. FYI:

  3. I have jsut taken a look at this degree and it does look appealing and competitively priced. I am chosing between an MBA and a postgraduate leadership / management degree. Informative post. MBA Dissertations