The prevailing business curriculum and its underlying philosophy need a profound overhaul. Business students, practitioners, and professors must recognize the vast power that business leaders possess to shape and guide our society, and learn the responsibility to wield that power carefully. Students should be taught to look deep inside themselves to consider management as a calling—one that moves away from the simple pursuit of a career for private personal gain and toward a vocation that is based on a higher and more internally derived set of values about leading commerce and serving society.
This section is about the need for systemic solutions within the market and the reexamination of the purpose of the corporation in creating them. It centers on two main issues. First, the natural environment is undergoing unprecedented and rapid changes in response to human activity, and it is the market that is creating them. Second, our society is growing more economically unequal, and it is again the market that is making it this way. Yet business students are offered very little education on the mechanisms through which business activities affect the natural and social environments. Instead, they must be provided with some degree of natural and social scientific literacy to responsibly manage their companies. The business school curriculum must be broadened to include knowledge necessary to assume the responsibilities that come with the power that business leaders possess.
One area of power that rises above all others is the extent to which the corporate sector influences government policy. It is surprising to me how few business schools offer courses on government lobbying, much less collaborative and constructive lobbying. Indeed, common perceptions are that government has no place in the market, that regulation is an unwarranted intrusion in the market, and that all lobbying is corrupt. These views are naïve and destructive. Government is the domain in which the rules of the market are set and enforced, and lobbying is basic to democratic politics, as governments seek guidance on how to set the rules of the market and usher reforms as needed. Companies with a mindset toward serving society can participate constructively in policy formation, seeking policies that help to make society and the economy strong and fair in the aggregate, not just for the select and affluent few.
Future business leaders must develop sound skills as change agents, understanding both change within the organization and changes outside that will drive it. One way to drive change is by dealing with sustainability challenges as mainstream business issues and fitting them into the market as it exists. A second way is to push people and institutions out of their comfort zones and create transformational change at the systemic level. Blending the incremental and the transformative, students of business management must be prepared to challenge the status quo and make people uncomfortable, while at the same time knowing when to be polite and fit our social and environmental challenges within the mainstream of the status quo. They're going to have to do both and know when each is warranted. That requires a knowledge of how social movements both drive and can be driven by corporations.
The idea of a vocation or calling poses a challenge for us as both change agents and human beings. How can we push for systemic change while recognizing that we are also part of that system that needs change? How do we push others to recognize the need for systemic changes in the market without also recognizing the need for systemic changes in our own lives? We need to know how to address the burdens of dissonance, hypocrisy, and guilt in ourselves. We need to know how to strike the right balance of living our values without pretending we are not similarly part of the problem. In the end, this is a challenge of a vocation—to blend our personal and professional lives. This requires a kind of clear-headed moral thinking that today's business schools should be teaching.
I want to personally challenge every business student, every business executive, and every business school professor to think about the system in which students are beginning their careers and to push back when it is steering them away from their calling. Pushing back means questioning the world students are inheriting and taking ownership to make it better for others—the people who will live with the decisions they make and the next generation of business leaders who will inherit the world that is left to them. To do that, students have to think now about the legacy they want to leave and begin to make it. I want to encourage business students to make wise and far-reaching choices today, to strive for greatness, and to measure that greatness by how others benefit from what they do. Think to serve in business, not just to accumulate.