Conversations on Ethical Leadership presents conversations between academic and community leaders, sharing lessons and opportunities around ethical leadership, management, and governance processes. Read the full Q&A with author Ingrid Leman Stefanovic, here:
Tell us about when the idea for writing this book first came to fruition. Is there a story behind it? How did the topic of university governance from the perspective of ethics and leadership get fleshed out?
Having spent 15 years in university administration and 10 years in the corporate sector earlier on, I realized that there are both unique, as well as common challenges in institutional governance and management. I wanted to invite colleagues from both the academic and non-academic worlds to share their stories in the hopes that both could learn from one another.
As for the issue of ethical leadership, it seems to me that today, more than ever, we need informed conversations that will both emphasize the importance of moral wisdom and highlight some of the challenges in achieving it. As a philosopher by training, I firmly believe that ethics is more than a theoretical exercise but must define the lived experience of each of us in our daily decision making.
Were there any conversations with academic and community leaders that particularly surprised you, or stood out to you?
There were a few academics – and they are acknowledged specifically in the book – who stood out for me as exemplary leaders who showed moral vision, fairness, and respect toward their colleagues. Certainly, I have encountered instances where coworkers have let me and others down. But their impact in my mind pales in comparison with those who exhibited courage in the face of difficult decisions, and clarity of ethical purpose. We can learn and be guided by such people, as long as we keep our eyes open to acknowledge them and support them in tough times.
Did any themes emerge across some of the pieces in this collection? Were you expecting themes to emerge?
An interesting theme that emerged across several of the chapters related to the fact that ethical leadership is more an art rather than a technical craft or set of step-by-step guidelines. Eliciting the right way forward is often informed by lived experience, sometimes intuition, as well as sound reasoning. It consists of looking at the big picture and longer time frames. And following your head as well as your heart.
What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
The book was organized so that brief commentaries followed each chapter. My challenge was to identify writers who would be open to preparing commentaries that were respectful of the academic lessons learned, and who could make relevant connections to the broader community. I was very fortunate to find excellent and qualified interdisciplinary contributors, both for each chapter as well as those who could link the content to wider corporate, industry, and community concerns.
It was interesting to see how, offline, some commentators either implicitly or explicitly shared their belief with me that universities could learn from the business world – but not vice versa. But with time, I was gratified to see that lessons shared through the dialogue went both ways, which is a big take-away message from this book. Universities can learn a lot about governance by listening to the corporate world and the broader community – but everyone can also benefit by attending to lessons learned at university campuses which, after all, can be larger than many towns.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Conversations on Ethical Leadership?
Today, ethical leadership is at risk all around us. Ethics commissioners are identifying irregularities in policy making in Canada, both provincially and nationally, and in other parts of the world, a President is under federal inditement, while other leaders are compromising international law in their decisions. As a society, we must hold leadership to account, for the good of all. This book presents some lessons learned from a unique source – post-secondary educational institutions which, ostensibly, are themselves meant to train students around making the right decisions. I hope that the reader enjoys this book but also that it inspires each of us to think and act, with ethics front and center in our everyday decision making.
After all, as Albert Einstein put it, “only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.”