Dr. Jeffrey Garten has a thoughtful piece in Businessweek titled "B-Schools: Only a C+ in Ethics." Dr. Garten presents several ideas for strengthening the ethical aspects of MBA programs including a suggestion that b-schools ask probing questions about ethical "turning points" and business issues in both application essays and interviews.
Over the years a number of programs have asked students about ethical dilemmas and challenges. I have been struck by how few applicants see value clashes when they stare them in the face. For example, everyone has to balance conflicting commitments to work and family. That on a very basic level is an ethical dilemma. Most of us value social commitments, respect for elders, and the closer ties we have with family. At the same time, we (usually) take seriously our responsibility to our company, shareholders, and customers. Frequently those values clash. Applicants, however, rarely see this situation as a value conflict or ethical dilemma.
Business is filled with such conflicts: The short-term interests of current stockholders vs. those of those holding stock for the long run. The claims of employees vs. the claims of customers. The needs of employees, shareholders, and customers coexist but in a tension born of conflict.
If you are asked about ethical challenges you have faced, think of times when your beliefs, relationships, or constituents were in conflict. How did you handle the situation? What did you learn?