Leading with Integrity


Leading with Integrity: By Professor Katrina Pritchard and Dr Louisa Huxtable-Thomas, MBA lecturers

When historians look back at the early years of the 21st Century, they will note a unifying theme for all nations and ways of life; that it was time when power and privilege was challenged. In particular, when those who had previously been secure in their power as leaders were questioned, not because of their business acumen, but because of their values.

Discussions about leadership and integrity fill the news coverage, with political and corporate leadership under particular scrutiny. From the individual owner-operator to the largest public sector or multinational-corporation, leaders are faced with new expectations from their customers, stakeholders and regulators that affect decisions across all areas of operation.  The integrated nature of many economies and increasing globalisation only adds to the complexity and highlights the need for coordination. Perhaps leadership has finally become a team game, but one in which individuals can still be singled out for praise, or brought low by criticism.

Here at Swansea University School of Management, we set out to design a new type of MBA designed to help people to lead with the integrity demanded of them in the face of global challenges like ageing populations, climate crisis, Industry 4.0 and finite natural resources.  We wanted to encourage these new leaders to envision the world that will replace the old, and to replace the question ‘How can we…?’ with ‘How should we?’ In particular when we set out to design the module ‘leading with integrity’, none of us could have imagined the political, economic and social shift that the global pandemic has created – but we found that we’d designed exactly the module to help the next generation of leaders to use it as an opportunity to improve the lives and work of others.

In developing our learners’ understanding of how to ‘Lead with Integrity’, we encourage discussion and sometimes point out the flaws, in established leadership theory and its application to modern enterprise.  Rather than lingering on a past that doesn’t apply in the new normal, we draw on a wide range of contemporary cases, both from the current COVID-19 context and beyond and encourage students to reflect on the ways in which different aspects of leadership have been theorised and tested and whether these should be applied today.

This allows our learners to appreciate the legacy of perspectives such as the ‘great man’, whilst questioning these within the context of, for example, today’s diverse workplaces.  In this way we also encourage a critical exploration of the assumptions on which these concepts are built.   For example, we encourage students to question to what extent ‘leaders’ remain central to ‘leadership’.  Being critical like this encourages exploration of differences between leaders and others, particularly those assigned the role of ‘follower’.

Through such examination, we explore how academic (mis)understandings become established and the different ways in which they transfer to practice.  We will consider how some ideas about leadership are adopted seemingly overnight and why others fail to take hold.  Learners are encouraged to work through leadership scenarios which allow an in-depth examination of notions of the ‘right’ decision and the ‘best’ way forward and the grey space of our complex reality in between.   While leadership success stories have long been the mainstay of MBA programmes, our approach will opens these up to scrutiny and equips students to lead with integrity, in a way that they can be proud of, wherever their future career takes them.

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