I want to prepare students to deal with small issues of integrity, honesty and transparency, and prepare them for the kind of leader they will be when they assume responsibility for teams. - Joshua Nunziato
Dr. Joshua S. Nunziato, an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Social Responsibility and Sustainability division (SRS) and Director of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative Collegiate Program at Leeds, teaches undergraduate, MBA and executive MBA students to think deeply about the direction their companies are heading and the contributions they are making to the stakeholder ecosystem. As a philosopher, Joshua’s research focuses on contemplative practices as a catalyst for shaping ethical behavior in the world of business.
“In an age where the shift to sustainability is becoming more urgent we need to give a lot more thought to the sacrifices we are making,” he says. “Contemplation is a powerful tool for equipping people to think in that way.”
We interviewed Joshua about what he wants students to take away from his classes, the role of philosophy in a business school, and the responsibilities of the business sector in the current political, economic and social global moment.
Why does philosophy belong in a business school?
I see philosophy as a catalyst for shaping everyday decision making and professional leadership. It is a privilege to work with students who are very practical and pragmatic but also empathetic and passionate about making the world a better place. I am grateful for the chance to engage students with my thinking on how we can connect the everyday ways we comport ourselves, together with the visionary moments by which we chart our life. It really matters that those levels are not allowed to just float in isolation but are brought into some kind of cohesive, intelligent whole.
What is the one thing you want future business leaders to learn from your classes?
Businesses are not simply impersonal tools. They always encode our values and ethical commitments–sometimes for good and other times for ill. By focusing on ethical leadership I am asking students to think about alignment or misalignment between their personal values and the values embedded in the systems they are choosing to become involved in. My courses emphasize the importance of recognizing how the places they choose to work give them room to express their values and make the kind of change they want to see in the world.
What would you tell a student who was considering working for a large, legacy company, for example in an extractive industry? We can’t leave them behind if we want to be successful at a global scale.
I don’t want students to feel powerless to change the structure. They might have more opportunities to make a difference at a big, more traditional company than at a smaller one that is already doing an amazing job and has lots of low hanging opportunities. But they also need to be aware they could get swallowed up by a culture that is misaligned with their values. I want students to have at least some expectation they will have an opportunity to make a significant impact.
Industries as varied as automotives, grocery and apparel have begun to combine sustainability and innovation in the same role. Do you see this as part of a trend toward acknowledgement of the importance of a values-driven framework to the core of business strategy?
I am encouraged by what I see as a rapid and pronounced shift away from a model where the impact you have is extrinsic to core strategy, and toward a more holistic approach in which sustainability considerations are baked into a company’s DNA and vision. It is the moral commitments that influence and frame all of the environmental and social impacts that a company has, as well as their strategy for change going forward.
My research focuses on sacrifice because we always have to make trade offs. Instead of thinking about sacrifice as a private, or corporate loss, I am interested in how we can reframe sacrifice as an offering for the common good with a goal of helping the community flourish. We are all in this together whether we want to be or not, and we need tools for thinking through the broader set of responsibilities that focus entails.
We often talk about making the business case for sustainability. You seem to be arguing for a different approach.
To me, Ethical, Social, Governance (ESG) means the ability to respond to the real needs and wants of a broad stakeholder ecosystem with compassionate pragmatism. So it means looking comprehensively at the net impact, for good or ill, your decisions are having and trying to manage what you can measure as well as the important things you can't measure, like ethical responsibilities.
There is a lot of innovation happening in how to capture environmental, governance and social performance so we can report out on it. But it's a both/and situation. We need to ask what are we measuring, what are we not measuring, and what are the ethical commitments we have that we cannot quantify but need to acknowledge in our decision making. You need a different set of tools to manage those facets of sustainable leadership.
What about those early in their careers? What kinds of ethical dilemmas do they face, and how can people not in positions of authority contribute to the conversation?
Ethical issues students are likely to face early in their careers include things like cross generational communication. I want students to reflect on how they navigate differences in expectations when it comes to the workplace, especially when it comes to relating to each other constructively and critically. Cultivating this on teams takes a lot of emotional intelligence, sensitivity, and awareness of those around you.
There can be marginal and small-time cheating and corner cutting plus cultural pressure to float along with those problems. Other common problems include managing and reporting time, harassment, discrimination and microaggressions, expense reports and travel compensation. It is important not to exclude larger systems-level questions that they will have an opportunity to address as they earn greater seniority, but they also cannot neglect the more everyday stuff. It is one leadership formation journey with different stages.
Has the pandemic impacted how you think about, and teach about, sustainability?
As we emerge from the crisis mode of the pandemic there is a lot of change and uncertainty. Business leaders must understand the forces driving those changes and then apply that knowledge to provide high-integrity, forward-looking leadership.
We must ask what we, as communities, businesses, and neighbors, care about: what are the values that can gather us in joint efforts? We are just beginning to ask, and we need to know the right questions before we can work together to figure out the answers.
Learn more about Joshua Nunziato’s research and teaching
- Augustine and the Economy of Sacrifice: Ancient and Modern Perspectives by Joshua Nunziato
- Ethical Leadership for Corporate Directors with Joshua Nunziato on the Innovation in Compliance with Tom Fox podcast
- Apogy Change Leader Insights - Dr. Joshua Nunziato, Leeds School of Business, a conversation with Jessica Crow, change management consultant and yoga teacher, on practices for cultivating greater compassion amongst business leaders for more sustainable management
- Joshua S. Nunziato and Ronald Paul Hill, “Perfectionism and the Place of the Interior Life in Business: Toward an Ethics of Personal Growth,” Business Ethics Quarterly 29, no. 2 (April 2019): 241–68