A perusal of the mission and vision statements of many top business schools are likely to reveal that they espouse some version of a commitment to developing ethical leaders or principled leaders.

This is certainly commendable.

The business world — strike that, the world — needs ethical leaders. There is broad agreement about this. However, if you reflect a little more on the phrase “ethical leader” or “principled leader,” you should notice that we clearly feel compelled to have to qualify the word “leader” with an adjective such as "ethical" or "principled."

Is this an implicit acknowledgment that we have in our midst plenty of unethical or unprincipled leaders? Worse yet, could it be that business schools, hopefully inadvertently, end up doing a relatively poor job of developing ethical leaders?

We must all come together and with full intent commit to helping the young women and men in our business schools blossom into ethical and principled leaders.

The need for such leaders has been brought into sharp contrast on the backdrop of the impacts of the pandemic, the demands for social justice and shifting consumer trends towards brands that have dedicated causes towards societal good, the urgent need for addressing climate change, and the broader issues of the role of business leaders in meeting the needs of communities, their customers, shareholders, and workers. These and other forces underscore the importance of grounding future business leaders in the Principles of Ethical Leadership, as highlighted by a statement from the Business Roundtable two years ago.

Now is the time for MBA and other business leadership programs to “get ahead of the curve” and double down in their commitment to helping nurture business leaders who are motivated to serve the common good. These leaders are able to meet the evolving needs of their shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities where their businesses operate.

It is safe to say that MBA programs have historically been quite adept at evolving their education to address various emerging societal and business needs, but the time is now to evolve once again and rise to the challenge of nurturing ethical and principled leaders.

It is imperative to lead by example in 2022. The Georgetown University McDonough School of Business is a member of a consortium of 10 MBA programs that have tested a highly effective means of “bringing to life” the Principles of Ethical Leadership, made possible through an intuitive McGowan Fund Fellows Program, now beginning its 12th year.

Following the example of its benefactor, Bill McGowan, an entrepreneur and leader of multiple telecommunications businesses, the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund has committed more than $20 million to invest with participating universities to design and then demonstrate highly effective ways of truly engaging MBA students in the Principles of Ethical Leadership.

The timing for a program like this could not be better. As a result of the changing needs of students and the organizations that will employ them, higher education has adopted many new responsibilities. One critical responsibility is to provide students with more opportunities to learn about and practice the desired characteristics of future leaders in any occupation.

The Principles of Ethical Leadership clearly should be included in MBA and business leadership programs and also considered for various other programs of study that prepare the future leaders of our communities, government, the charitable sector, and society at large.

We need our students primed to think of the impact of business on society and to do so well before any given MBA program begins. Early exposure to ethical leadership frameworks such as that provided by the McGowan Fund has proven to prepare students to think about various ethical dilemmas, which are subsequently introduced during their fall semester courses such as finance and marketing.

With practical application in mind, programs need to consider opportunities to embed the principles of ethical leadership from the boardroom to the classroom. We need to be overseeing exercises that (for example) present modern ethical scenarios that simulate real-world moral and ethical business dilemmas that our next generation would be asked to tackle. This ‘ethical project’ powerfully strengthens a critical mindset that intentionally includes ethical considerations in decision-making.

The McGowan Charitable Fund is committed to continuously supporting MBA students in business leadership programs so they can fully experience the proven success of the McGowan Fellows Program. Through holistic exercises in ethical leadership and through experiential learning opportunities, it is possible for young women and men, who are hungry for meaning and purpose in their lives, to learn what it means to be an ethical leader.

Through trial and error, working on a real problem where business can be a force for good, they are able to absorb, learn and even habituate the principles of ethical leadership. And in the process, they also develop a network of like-minded alumni who are there to support each other in their careers as they each navigate their respective encounters with the ethical leadership challenges of the business world.

Throughout the McGowan Fellows program, what these students have reminded us is that the debate of whether individuals are “born” to be ethical leaders or they can be “taught" to be so, is irreverent. The young women and men I refer to have and will continue to prove to us that character growth is developmental in nature, and that classroom learning in the absence of experiential opportunities is insufficient for developing leaders.

Character growth comes about through deep experiential engagement and development conversations with trusted peers. MBA programs shouldn't simply teach values-based leadership, but do so in such a manner that leverages their extraordinary assets to ensure students experience true character development and emerge from this experience better prepared to become leaders who serve the common good.

Guidance may ultimately be necessary for understanding not only the Principles of Ethical Leadership but moreover, the significant importance in 2022 of including them within MBA and other business leadership programs.

Prashant Malaviya is a Senior Associate Dean of MBA Programs at McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University