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Ethics at Center of Leadership Conference

By Janita Poe

Should theology be a key component of leadership education?

How can higher education prepare emerging leaders to deal more proactively with unethical behavior in organizations?

Which career path is best for middle-class, African American students who want to give back to the community: non-profit service or Corporate America?

These were just a few of the compelling questions raised by participants in “Ethical Leadership: At the Intersection Where Worlds Collide,” the College’s inaugural leadership conference held early this month.

“I’m concerned with developing a new generation of leaders who not only have incredible technical skills, but also have the skills of looking, listening and learning,” said Walter E. Fluker, Coca-Cola Professor of Leadership Studies, Professor of Philosophy and Religion, and executive director of the Leadership Center at Morehouse College.

David Samuel, IBM Executive on Loan in the Leadership Center, coordinated the conference with a team including James Brown ’66, Moanica Caston, David Edwards, John W. Handy, LaKetha Hudson, Kathleen Johnson, Toni Mosley, Earl J. Nero ’72, Denise Pines, Lee Torrence, Peter J. Vedro, Malcolm B. Williams, DeJuan Wilson ’97 and Gwen Young. Samuel calls himself a change agent — because he “brings people together for the purpose of transformation” in settings such as the conference.

During one session, attendees lined up behind two microphones to ask David Gergen, Harvard University Center for Public Leadership Director, challenging questions about everything from the success of Asians in education to national leaders’ reaction to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Among them was Yale Divinity School student Ashley Brown, who wanted to know if Gergen felt leadership programs should require courses in theology.

“The bottom line is I don’t think it should be required,” Gergen replied to Brown, adding that he believes being anchored in faith often is a characteristic of a strong leader.

David Thomas, H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University Graduate School of Business, brought the subject home when he talked about his brother’s decision to move back into a working class community.

Thomas talked about an incident where his nephew ran in the house yelling that his friend had a gun. “There were many voices in the house. Some said, ‘quick, call the cops. Others said, ‘lock the door.’ Thomas’ brother decided to talk with the youngster. “The moment you objectify a person, you start to engage in unethical leadership,” he said.

The event brought together students, political figures, university deans and corporate leaders from Atlanta and across the country to thoroughly analyze the growing national debate on ethical leadership.

The Coca-Cola Company was the conference’s premier sponsor. Anheuser-Busch Companies, Annie E. Casey Foundation, Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, SODEXHO and The Ford Motor Company provided additional support

Fluker told conference participants about the goals and vision of the Leadership Center. “There are many voices and visions in our society today. We need leaders who can understand these diverse groups and also manage systems,” he said.

From the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky saga to Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s indictment to crises at major corporations like Enron and WorldCom, Americans have been increasingly focused on the need for more ethical leadership. At issue is not just forcing leaders to “do right” but, rather, coming to an agreement on what ethical leadership is in a country where many cultures bring different values to the table, established and emerging leaders say.

President Walter E. Massey ’58 said the conference sets the stage for the College to lead the country in educating future leaders with not only book knowledge but also wisdom in ethics, relationships and important day-to-day problem solving.

“The world needs more action-oriented leadership, perhaps more today than any time in recent history,” Massey said in an address to the conference.“… [We need] leadership that creates change, leadership that solves problems, leadership that turns a vision of a better tomorrow into the reality of a better tomorrow.”

More coverage coming in the Fall/Winter 2005 Morehouse Magazine, due out in December.

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