11 Jan 2008
HBS Course Uses Literature To Teach Moral Leadership
Storied Elective Features Authors Such As Chinua Achebe and Sophocles
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Senior Lecturer Sandra Sucher

BOSTON — Albert Camus, Barbara Kingsolver, and David Mamet are names not typically referenced in an MBA classroom. But they are just a sample of the literary giants discussed in the Harvard Business School second-year elective course, The Moral Leader, currently taught by Senior Lecturer Sandra Sucher. First introduced to HBS in the late 1980s by Harvard psychiatrist and educator Robert Coles, the course uses literary works to study decision making and leadership and help MBAs find their own definition of moral leadership.

Sucher recently published two books about The Moral Leader in an effort to make the course accessible to individuals - executives, students, teachers, even book club participants - beyond the School. The Moral Leader: Challenges, Tools, and Insights, is a textbook that provides historical and social context for the literature read in the course, as well as instructional materials. The accompanying instructor's guide, Teaching The Moral Leader: A Literature-Based Leadership Course, includes practical details on presenting course materials, creating student assignments, and grading.

The Moral Leader: Challenges, Tools, and Insights is designed to encourage students and managers to confront fundamental moral challenges, develop skills in moral analysis and judgment, and come to terms with their own definition of moral leadership and how it can be translated into action. Drawing on the inspiration of historical figures such as Machiavelli and the Antarctic explorer Earnest Shackleton, and based on an impressive array of literary sources including novels, plays, history, and biography, the book centers on four questions implicitly asked of all leaders:

• What is the nature of moral challenge?
• How do people reason morally?
• How do leaders contend with the moral choices they face?
• How is moral leadership different from leadership in general?

Struggling with these questions, both individually and as members of a learning community, students internalize moral leadership concepts and choices, and develop the skills to pursue it in both their careers and personal lives.

Sucher recently discussed her experiences with The Moral Leader course, how students respond, and the value of the topic in the business world with HBS Working Knowledge. Read the Q&A; here.

About the Author
Sandra Sucher joined the Technology and Operations Management Unit of Harvard Business School after 25 years in industry and nonprofit management. In addition to The Moral Leader, she teaches Leadership and Corporate Accountability" in the required first-year MBA curriculum and has also taught Technology and Operations Management and related courses in various HBS Executive Education programs. Her current research focuses on moral leadership, learning through literature, and the relationship between ethics and innovation.