Georgetown University

Principled Financial Leadership

Designed to train women and men to lead with integrity, this course focuses on ethical challenges faced by leaders of financial firms or by leaders in finance positions at non-financial firms.

Learning Outcomes of Principled Financial Leadership

This course will offer answers to the questions below to equip you with tools to answer them on your own over the course of your career.

  • What does it take to lead effectively?
  • What inclines us to follow some people and not others?
  • What inclines people, teams, business units, or entire firms to behave ethically and what explains their misconduct?
  • What do we owe morally to others in a business context?
  • What do corporate leaders owe to society?

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This course is designed around the first and last words in its title. And in that order. The word in the middle indicates the orientation of the course around interests and concerns of finance professionals in the financial services industry. To break it down, unit 1 will concentrate on the normative dimension of business, and the science of moral life. The unit will be organized around a question, what do we owe morally to others in a business context?

Unit 2 is focused on leadership. And the key factors of effective leadership with or without authority. One of those factors is integrity, which figures prominently in the model of principal leadership I'll propose. Unit 3 draws together the first two units in an examination of leading ethical performance. The organizing question in that unit will be, what is required to incline a group of people to play by the rules and act with integrity? In unit 4, we will apply and expand upon the first three units by examining the demands of team leadership. Unit 5 makes use of elements from the first four units in an exploration of assuming new leadership roles. I will also introduce you to a leader in the financial services industry that might, or might not, exemplify principled leadership. I'll let you be the judge. Unit 6 is reserved for emerging issues within the scope of Principled Financial Leadership. And some individual leaders on the front lines of some of these trends. That's the through line, or the backbone, of this course. Along the way I will introduce models and frameworks based on the best available science and the most rigorous thinking I am aware of. The course has considerable ethical content, but not the preachy variety.

My job is to explain. I will not be selling you anything. And I don't expect you to take to heart everything I have to say. And just between us, I don't really expect you to remember every detail that we go through in this course. In fact, I'm going to predict that by May of this year, on the very day that you're walking across the stage on Healy Lawn to receive your diploma, the six principals of managerial moral responsibility will be distant memories. And the four I's of transformational leadership won't be far behind. I won't be testing your recall because I don't expect you to remember detailed information. My sights are set a lot higher. I expect a lot more out of you, and you, and you, all of you. I want you to discover some things of special value to your development as a leader that you'll be proud of.

The kinds of things I have in mind are high impact ideas in different ways of thinking that have a bearing on your future. I can create the conditions that are conducive to discoveries, but you will have to do some heavy lifting.
Over the course of the next six weeks, I will stimulate your thinking on a wide range of topics. But it will be up to you to personalize and harness it to your career aspirations.I'm confident that your efforts will be rewarded, but I'm equally confident that you are going to contribute to a collective learning experience.

Your classmates stand to learn from you, and so do I. I've taught this course since inception of the MSF program and I have taken away valuable lessons from each and every cohort. One of the reasons I teach is to learn and MSF's students do not disappoint. So on behalf of your classmates, thanks in advance for what you're about to do for us.

Let's take a look at the course requirements. Whoa, whoa, whoa, it's been a while since I practiced accounting, but that looks like more than 100%. Let's see here, carry the two--it is. It's much more. And didn't I just say I wasn't going to test your recall? I did.

So, let's get rid of the midterm. And let's do away with the final. Case analyzes, we don't need this requirement because you're going to make some very robust posts to the discussion boards. At least that's been my experience with MSF students in the past. Will you all continue that tradition? You will? OK, great. Then let's make that go away. Tons of reading, that's not very appropriate. It's also not true. I think you'll find that there isn't any busy work in this class.

There are cases to read, but that's going to be about it. If I think an article is essential, then it will appear as a reading. If I think something is interesting, then it will appear as a reading with the word optional appended to it. So let's erase that.

And what remains are the course requirements. That was a little syllabus humor, I know it's very little, but it's also an example of anchoring and adjustment that we'll talk about in this course. Now, this doesn't look so bad, does it? Before I get into each component, please check the syllabus to confirm that this weighting is correct. The figures in the syllabus are controlling. You know this drill by now. The only difference in this course is the grading routine for the judgment portion.

Everyone will start at a B, and go up or down based on performance. The criteria for assessing performance are specified in the syllabus. Two nonstandard considerations here. First, if speaking in class is a source of great anxiety, then please contact me and we'll work out an alternative channel. I don't want you to dread coming to class either in person, or online. All I ask is that you reach out in advance of unit two. The second unusual factor stems from my use of breakout rooms. I won't know what goes on in those rooms. But I assume that if a student is nominated to give the group's report, then he or she was pretty active. I also have a backup mechanism.

At the end of the course I will distribute a survey in which you'll be asked to identify classmates that contributed to your learning during MSF live sessions. 25% might seem like a lot, but it's calibrated to the effort I've witnessed over the years. The system is set up so that you won't see your classmates' posts until you've made yours. I would urge you to read what they had to say, and look for opportunities to engage. Detailed grading criteria are provided in the syllabus, but that's the gist of it. The ethical audit is based on materials covered in the first three units. The assignment is to be completed in small teams of your choosing.

When we get to team leadership, you'll see why I suggest a maximum team size of four. But to anticipate a frequently asked question, yes, you can form a team of five. Please reach out if you have something larger in mind. I'll try to talk you out of it, but under certain circumstances it will make sense. An ethical audit is an examination of the ethical performance of organizations. You'll see what that looks like during the MSF live sessions for unit 3. But you can do some preliminary work on this assignment before then. Detailed instructions are available now, including a template and an illustration of the deliverable. I would not suggest going too far, but you can form your teams and complete the second section.

While we're on the subject of teams, be sure to work as one. Each member will have a discreet contribution, but please, don't just combine them and call it quits. Each member of the team is responsible for the entire deliverable. Enough said on that.

But one other thing I'd like to highlight about this and the other major assignment is the emphasis on the professionalism of the deliverables. This isn't a fussy college professor thing and neither assignment is a paper. They are to be formatted as memos. And a meaningful percentage of your performance will be evaluated on the basis of professional writing standards. I would urge you to consult a document called, writing tips memo, to see what that entails.

If you want to nail this portion of the assignment, don't just consult it. Use it as a checklist. There is a rationale for subjecting you to what will probably feel like an overly formal style. Our writing figures prominently in the impressions that people form of us. We'll cover the science of the impression formation process and you'll see that it can be pretty unforgiving. Anything with your name on it should be short, sharp, and smart.

The quality of your ideas is not going to matter if they get lost in the text. And I wouldn't be doing my job if I ignored it. The principled leadership memorandum is an opportunity for you to personalize the course materials by formulating two ideas that stand to increase the effectiveness of your formal or informal leadership. There are detailed instructions for this assignment, but it boils down to these three sections.

The second section will require the most time and attention. Instructions include links to self-assessment surveys that generate reports of your results. The ideas you formulate in the final section are based on a critical analysis of that data. Guidance for analyzing survey results is provided in separate videos.

The value of this assignment varies from student to student, but it can be an impactful experience. However, I've always felt that something is lost when you're forced to complete it for a grade. You'll see in the instructions that I've tried to address that in the grading standards, but I'm not comfortable forcing you to engage in a professional development exercise. So, you don't have to.

There is an alternative assignment that you are welcome to complete instead. It will be designed to have the same degree of difficulty and time commitment as the principled leadership memo. It has changed over the years, so I will cover the alternative assignment during our first MSF live session. But the choice is yours. So here's what the course requirements look like. I'll close by saying that I am committed to doing this, and much more. When I'm not teaching, I will find time to hop on calls, or visit in person if you're in town.That's a perk of my job. And that's a standing offer.

Current and former students of mine have a priority claim on my time. I know you're busy, but here's your side of the bargain. If past is prologue, you will find the time to do this and more. And we will do this. Exploratory learning captures the work will be engaged in for the next six weeks. I'm going to thank you in advance for the time and effort you're going to put into making this course a success.

Thank you.