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A Green Oath for Business Leaders

Most medical professionals take an oath that charges them to consider the broader implications of their actions on society.

Business leaders, of course, take no such oath. Until recently, it was commonly accepted that the only interests they served were those of shareholders and, to a lesser extent, employees. But the rise of the corporate social responsibility movement and increasing environmental pressure on the planet is changing that view, with a recognition by many that business also must serve societal interests.

So Harvard Business School professors Rakesh Khurana and Nitin Nohria ask a provocative question: Should business leaders be required to take a professional oath, just like doctors do? A green Hippocratic Oath, as it were.

The logic for an oath follows from the belief that managers will more and more be held accountable for their social actions. To prepare them for that challenge, Khurana and Nohria call on business education programs to broaden what they teach managers-to-be.

"Students will need to learn how to incorporate environmental and social goals in decision making. They will also need to break away from misleading and simplistic ideas that caricature managers as the hired hands of shareholders. "
In other words, management as a profession will become more like the professions of medicine and law. "Professions such as these are, at least in theory, characterized by an orientation to serving society -- and they have something the profession of management does not have -- a normative code or oath that encourages leaders to consider the broader implications of their actions."

What do you think? Should business managers be held to a higher standard? Is a professional oath one effective way to drive those standards?