How to Teach Ethics, and Why You Should Care

I recently had the pleasure of attending a panel on "Innovations in Teaching Ethics" at the University of Virginia. The entire experience was a thrill because it affirmed my mission here at JLP Strategy -- to bring ethical wisdom into leadership practice.

Here are several pedagogical ideas that surfaced:

  • Literary discussions have been productive vehicles for considering the ethical dimensions of work.
  • Classic literature presents many facets of the human condition, which translates seamlessly across diverse professions.
  • Science fiction is  a particularly conducive genre for exercising the moral imagination.
  • Film clubs offer similar benefits as book clubs and eliminate the difficulty of mismatched reading levels. 
  • An "argument lab," employing both research and debate, is a productive idea for exploring various sides of a complicated issue. 

Big picture, these are the ethical skills that academics want to teach for application in professional life:

  • Knowing the difference between "empirical" and "normative."
  • The ability to anticipate and recognize moral issues.
  • The political savvy to see who is acknowledging moral problems and who handles them.
  • Capacity for ethical thought in the midst of ambiguity.

And, lastly, here is why execs should care about their employees' (and their own) ethical skills:

  • Ethical scandals are a PR disaster, to be avoided at all cost.
  • Ethics and strategy are closely related, particularly for good long-term outcomes.
  • The millennial workforce desires meaningful work, with ethical impact.
  • The moral imagination has everything to do with creative capacity (and I know I don't need to convince you to care about creativity!).
  • Your best contributors will have a strong point of view and the courage to defend it. 

Intrigued? Check out my services to implement these ideas at your organization.


This event took place during a conference to honor the work of philosopher and theologian  James "Jim" Childress.  Jim was my doctoral dissertation advisor, but that was tiny among his impressive list of accomplishments. I will always be grateful to have studied with him. 

Ethics is too important to be left to ethicists.
— James F. Childress