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As noted earlier, there are two distinct types of ethical issues which boards and board members need to address - one to do with personal integrity and the other to do with the integrity of decision making by the board. This section about the practice of ethics training is divided into two parts, the first dealing with personal integrity and the second with the integrity of decision making.

Training for Personal Integrity

All training, especially the training of adults, seeks to achieve an increase in knowledge, skills or personal attributes. (I have chosen to use the term 'training' throughout, but as it is concerned with the development of attri- butes in adults the term 'education' might be more appropriate. A change from training to education should not affect any other aspect of the analy- sis or proposals made in the chapter.) How does this apply to ethics train- ing for board members? Within the knowledge category fall the technical and legal aspects of director responsibilities - familiarity with statutory obligations, and sufficient understanding of the industry, context of opera- tions and social expectations, for instance - that will probably be looked after through an internal corporate function such as the general counsel or through courses promoted and conducted by professional bodies or consul- tants to the enterprise. However, we have seen above that board members also need moral imagination and courage. These are personal attributes rather than skills or knowledge and the methods used to teach board mem- bers about new regulations will not be appropriate here. As ethical beha- viour is learnt by practice and example, learning and doing are often intertwined, and the boundaries between deliberately undertaken training activities and on-the-job practice will often blur. Reflection is both a perso- nal capability and a tool for personal development, and case studies can explore both technical and moral issues. This interplay will be apparent in the six aspects of personal moral development that are discussed below - moral imagination, courage, case studies, heuristics, mentors and reflection.

Moral Imagination

Openness to external stimuli, awareness of the world around us, empathy and compassion all help to develop moral imagination. Reference has already been made to Patricia Werhane's (1999) work in this field. Both Coles (1989) and Hilder (2003) discuss the potential for the use of literature and stories in the development of moral imagination.


Responsibility for the development of courage lies with the individual director. Colleagues, mentors and exemplars can help when they provide examples of courageous behaviour and the community can support indivi- dual development through clear expectation and by celebrating courageous action when it is observed, but at its heart courage is personal. The pres- sures for conformity can be real, a take-over decision is needed quickly, the chairman or chief executive is domineering or aggressive, ethical discussion is not welcomed around the board table. But tools are at hand - practice, example and self-knowledge. The Giving Voice to Values programme devel- oped by Mary Gentile (2010) is designed to help people learn ways to speak more openly of their ethical concerns. The Balanced Experiential Inquiry method (Sekerka, Godwin, & Charnigo, 2012) shows how professional moral courage can be developed through structured discussion in work groups. The devil's advocate method of decision making is discussed later under the structural integrity heading.

Among the personal tools are the practice of binding oneself, use of pub- lic opinion tests and the mobilisation of support. Making a declaration ahead of time that you will (or will not) act in a particular way changes the situation when the time comes, both for you and for your fellow decision makers. It is harder for them to object, as that would be forcing you to abandon integrity and go against your stated intention, while for you the pull to retain integrity and avoid dissonance provides added moral fibre and 'backbone'. (The phrase binding oneself comes from the action of Ulysses on his passage past the tempting Sirens on his return from Troy. Knowing that the song of the sirens was both beautiful and certain to induce madness he had himself bound to the mast so that he could not fol- low any mad impulses.)

The airing of your previous commitment could also serve as the opening move in an effort to mobilise support for ethical action. Where there is a reluctance to discuss ethical issues, or the matter seems pre-determined, asking formal questions such as 'do we have a policy about that?' or 'how does that fit with our legal obligations?' might draw a response from another board member who is also concerned. Courage is often needed to go first, but the step does not need to be heroic. Once there is a break in the ice, however small, others may follow.

The public opinion test, sometimes called the 'sunshine' test, can be invoked in a similar way. This asks the board to consider what would be the reaction to the proposed decision if it were to be made public, on the front page of the local newspaper, on the television news or on a prominent blog. In some situations it may be possible to find examples of negative reaction to similar decisions by others. This is not 'pussy footing around', it is getting the issue into the open. It may be helping other board members to recognise the ethical aspect of the matter where they had not seen one before. It may be the example of courageous behaviour that will encourage courageous behaviour in others.

Case Studies

'The connections between ethical reasoning and business are best discussed in relation to cases. Case studies exemplify problems and allow for com- plexity and ambiguity, but above all they have the virtue of being believ- able' (Grace & Cohen, 2010, p. 50). Case studies provide more than an account of the relevant events; they can relate principle to practice in a par- ticular industry or location. 'They illustrate values, reasonings, reactions, decisions, and consequences. They tell us something about the character of a practice' (Grace & Cohen, 2010, p. 50). Discussion of cases is most effec- tive when it helps us to understand how ethical decisions are made, and thereby to enhance our own capability to make such decisions (O'Donovan, 2002). The purpose of a case study is not so much to see what it was that others did wrong so that the wrongdoers can be identified and vilified. Nor is it to identify patently unethical practice or primarily to engage us in an exercise of finding the right answer. The best ethics cases will have no one correct answer. If they are discussed openly, with time for reflection, they can help participants examine the decision making processes and values of others, providing at the one time example and practice. Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book After Virtue (1985), observes that telling stories has been 'the chief means of moral education' in all classical and heroic societies.

By applying a consistent approach to each case study, learning can be enhanced, particularly in a group. (This ventures into the process area, but the boundaries are blurred.) Standard vocabularies are developed and some stories become part of a common repertoire. The use of a method to exam- ine prepared cases in workshops can carry over to the consideration of actual cases when decision is required. A simple three-step procedure is described below. Engagement in case studies is a communal activity; direc- tors may do it with their colleagues in workshops or on 'planning days', in which case the active support of the chairman might be used to nurture the process through repetition so that the shared benefits can be developed. In a similar way a professional body or a multi-site organisation might use common cases and a common method to develop shared understanding of corporate and personal values.


Even though the interesting and difficult ethical issues are those that do not have easy, black and white answers, the use of heuristics can be appropriate in many situations, and training in their use, especially where a single prac- tice or procedure is adopted within a decision group such as a board, or across the whole enterprise, can be beneficial. This can help to focus ethical decision making on facts and avoid knee-jerk reactions by requiring that a pre-agreed decision process is followed as the heuristic is applied. Examples include the Rotary 4-Way test (Thompson, 2008), and Sara Lee's 'mirror test': Is it legal? What will others think? Is it right? Do the right thing Lee (Sara Lee, n.d., p. 7). Individuals can use these procedures as an element of their personal training programme even when the procedure has not been adopted more widely in the enterprise. Mentors

Example, practice, narrative - having someone to talk to and who wants to talk with you about ethics - is a proven means of ethical development. It is especially valuable at the board level where the issues may be confiden- tial or the pressures not understood by those unused to board responsibil- ity. Having a trusted colleague who can be relied upon to act with integrity and respect privacy can slowly but surely develop personal ethical capacity. Personal engagement, one to another, is essential. As Phillip Phan says in Taking back the boardroom, 'reading [a] book will not make you a better director' (2007, p. ix). Whilst the books of themselves may not be adequate teachers, reflection on the characters in them and their stories might be, and mention has already been made of this in the references to O'Donovan's (2002) approach to learning from case studies and the views of Coles (1989) and Hilder (2003) on the development of moral imagination through stories.


Reflection is a means of developing personal virtue, of understanding one's personal values, a basis of ethical behaviour, and a means of ethics train- ing. As individual board members are responsible for major aspects of their own ethical training, critical reflection, examining one's beliefs and values by turning things over in the mind to a purpose, can be an important ele- ment of ethics training at board level. It requires time to be set aside. It requires discipline. Contemporary examples of the practice of reflection by people with responsibility for corporate strategy and board-like decision include Charles Handy's The elephant and the flea (2002). Additional infor- mation about the use of reflection in training can be found in Moon (1999) and Lyons (2009).

Integrity in Decision Processes

Integrity in decision making is an important aspect of ethical behaviour for an organisation, especially in regard to internal consistency in decision making processes and to the congruency between the basis on which decisions are taken and the declared aims of the enterprise. As 'the kind of reflection and self-assessment which goes into maintaining integrity in one sphere of life may help people to reflect similarly in other spheres' (Cox, La Caze, & Levine, 2013, p. s7), these activities may be self- reinforcing. The discussion of personal moral development has brought to light activities which could be adopted across the organisation or in rele- vant parts of it, and which, if accompanied by appropriate training in their use, could encourage organisational integrity. These are the use of a single, enterprise-wide heuristic for ethical decision making, a consistent process for the discussion of case studies with ethical content and repeated case study discussion, and the use of reflection as a learning tool in ethics train- ing. There are many ways in which the case study discussions might con- tinue. They do not need repeated, expensive workshops. Some firms and anti-corruption agencies use newsletters, blogs and videos to make new cases available for discussion.

Devil's Advocate Procedures

One of the most effective board level procedures to embed integrity in the decision making process is the adoption of a formal Devil's Advocate pro- cedure for decision making. This is not to elevate the comment 'If I was to play the Devil's Advocate for a moment …' to the level of a formal proce- dure, but to adopt a decision regime based on the presentation of opposing cases, one for and one against the proposal. This requires some protection to be given to the 'devil's advocate', the person charged with responsibility to put forward, as plausibly as possible, the case against a decision which might well have already built up a head of steam in the organisation. The procedure is a guard against groupthink. The best known example - out- side the canonisation process under which the case for and against saint- hood was examined within the Roman Catholic Church - is the introduction of the procedure by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco (Kennedy, 1969; Schlesinger, 1965).

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