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CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

The earlier sections of this chapter have shown that directors are called upon to exercise judgement, to display personal integrity, and to act in situations where there is no single calculable answer. History shows that some directors give preference to objectives other than those of the enter- prise. Thus personal integrity, imagination, judgment and courage are four elements on which the ethics training for boards might properly focus. This section provides a brief introduction to recent research and scholarship in these areas as a foundation to the consideration of actual practices for the training of board members. The practice of critical reflection, the role of moral imagination in ethical decision making, and some insights about courage are considered in turn.

Reflection

Reflection, turning things over in one's mind to a purpose, has been shown to be an effective learning tool in business and professional education (MacFarlane, 2001). There are however 'a bewildering array of ambiguous, diverse interpretations of reflection and reflective practice' (Cotton, 2001,

p. 512). A number of classifications have been proposed for the various aspects of reflection as they relate to education. One, developed by Taylor (2004) and based on categories of knowledge from Habermas (1966), uses the terms 'technical reflection', 'practical reflection' and 'emancipatory reflection' to distinguish the knowledge involved and the work interests represented. The third of these categories sees reflection as a path to the examination or adoption of personal values. It is called 'critical reflection' by Hatton and Smith (1995) and by Mezirow (1990), and is the form of reflection most relevant in the board context.

The importance of critical reflection as a means of learning has been recognised for over a century. John Dewey, in How we learn (1991), saw reflection as the only truly educative form of thought, and considered that it must be focussed on personal values, 'a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief on a firm basis of reasons' (1991, p. 16). Dewey's contemporary and fellow pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce noted the importance of effort and examination of perceived beliefs when he argued for the process he called abduction, the 'forming of explanatory hypotheses' (1931-1958, p. 5.172) - arguing from the facts towards a theory of explanation (see Harris, 2011). It is not from reflection on procedures or methods but from reflection on one's own premises, through a critical review of presuppositions, meaning schemes and perspectives, that transformative learning comes (Mezirow, 1990, p. 18). Transformative learning, the development of personal values, is linked to critical reflection by Cotton in her review of the role of reflection in education and profes- sional development where she lists 'self-awareness and understanding … [and] … personal, social, political emancipation' as benefits (2001, p. 512) and by Taylor who links it to Habermas's description of 'analysis, which sets the consciousness free' (1966, p. 296). That is sufficient in itself to show that reflection is a valuable activity for board members, leave aside its capa- city to develop moral values.

Moral Imagination

Ethical behaviour has four components, according to the model developed by James Rest: moral sensitivity, moral judgement, moral motivation and engaging in moral action (Rest & Narva´ ez, 1994). A morally mature per- son, Rest argued, is able to recognise that an ethical issue has arisen, under- take a reasoned process of moral judgement to ascertain the proper response, have the motivation to take the appropriate action and then do so. The first step in this process, recognising moral issues, will be more effective when the person making the judgment has a well-developed imagi- nation - not to be carried away on flights of fancy but more readily to per- ceive how a situation might develop or how established principles might apply in novel and unexpected situations. A well-developed moral imagina- tion can also be valuable in the second, judgement, stage by helping the decision maker recognise who might be affected by any planned responses and by helping to generate additional courses of action for evaluation. Patricia Werhane (1999) has argued that where this capacity is missing or poorly developed, decision makers may engage in behaviour and promote actions which have unexpected (to the decision makers) harmful conse- quences and are morally suspect.

Courage

Courage has long been considered relevant in the management of civic affairs. This is not the physical courage of the warrior or adventurer but the moral courage of the leader making tough decisions in a complex and changing environment, often in the face of personal hardship or loss. Courage is 'a central virtue' (Yearley, 1990, p. 145), one of the 'three basic qualities of a virtuous person' (Jiang, 1997, p. 274). It was considered by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius essential to effective governance (Aurelius, 1961).

Courage is, however, notoriously hard to define. An account of courage which is relevant to management, dealing with courage in practice, with events where courage is called for or shown, uses three aspects to give shape to the concept. The first aspect recognises the dynamic nature of courage, the second is concerned with its development and display, and the third with the requirement that courage be directed towards some good if it is to be a virtue (Harris, 1999, 2001). The account has its genesis in Aristotle's definition of a virtue as a state of character concerned with choice, avoiding extremes, determined not by arithmetical rules but by the exercise of practical wisdom in community (Aristotle, 1953). Emerging from the dynamic nature of courage is the identification of various obsta- cles against which courage is sought or called for and of a range of tools which can be employed to enhance the likelihood of courageous behaviour. To be consistent with the requirement that courage is a part of practical wisdom and contains practical and analytical elements (Harris, 1999), the tools can be divided into three main categories - practice, example and self-knowledge (after Okin, 1996, p. 220). The obstacles which the relevant community, be that the board, investors or the general public, expects those in particular positions or roles to overcome by courage include both obsta- cles of circumstance and obstacles arising from features of character (after Foot, 1978, p. 12). Amongst the obstacles of circumstance are those arising from the dangers of enterprise, misfortune and the braving of public opi- nion, while the relevant features of character include fear of pain, dislike of hardship and love of excitement. This analysis of courage is relevant to ethical training for board members in that many of the obstacles on the list will be recognised by them as occurring in their own experience as board members, thereby helping to demonstrate the relevance of courage, while the existence of a set of proven tools gives hope and focus to any training programme.

 
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