Opinions - 11.03.2015 - 00:00 

Educating heads, hands and hearts

On 18 March, the University of St.Gallen will be hosting the 2015 Sustainable University Day. Thomas Dyllick, Professor of Sustainable Management at the HSG, on new concepts for responsible business education.


13 March 2015. Executives in enterprises and in government are under critical observation these days. Their sense of responsibility is often cast into doubt in the wake of societal challenges, particularly also those of the most recent financial and economic crisis. What is wanted is a new form of leadership that is capable of reconciling the success of the leader’s own organisation with social welfare and the preservation of natural ecological systems. This challenge is thus also faced by the universities which educate executives.

The notion of responsible leadership is conceived of as a form of leadership that is able and willing to make complex and value-based decisions not only for the benefit of the leader’s own organisation but also for the benefit of society as a whole. In this context, the focus is on five competencies, in particular: responsible leaders are aware of the direct and indirect consequences of their actions. Thus they have a sound understanding of the dependencies of their systems and ours. They are able to establish and maintain relations with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Value-based mode of behaviour

In addition, responsible leaders are able to translate ideas into action in order to bring about change. This is only possible if they display an ethically founded and value-based mode of behaviour and lead by example. Also, they require a profound understanding of themselves, which finds expression in the ability to consciously reflect on their own thoughts and actions, as well as on their own prejudices and predilections.

Knowledge – Skills – Attitudes
How, though, can universities contribute to the training and education of responsible leaders? To start with, it can be noted that universities still primarily see their educational mission in the communication of knowledge, secondarily at most in the teaching of skills, and little or not at all in the communication of attitudes, i.e. volition. According to Heinrich Pestalozzi’s approach, all three dimensions are required for the education of responsible executives: an integrative education must appeal to heads, hands and hearts. However, for knowledge to be transformed into practical ability, and for experts to become practitioners capable of acting, practical skills have to be adequately trained. And for practitioners capable of acting to metamorphose into sensitive and conscious actors, it takes an ethical consciousness and a deliberate practice of ethical behaviour.

Experience-based learning
To attain a better balance between the communication of knowledge, skills and attitudes, universities are challenged to continue to develop their teaching and to boost their use of methods of experience-based learning. What this means is likely to find its simplest expression in the Confucian adage: “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.”

However, is experience-based learning possible at all at a university? At the Sustainable University Day on 18 March 2015, two innovative teaching concepts of the University of St.Gallen will be debated: “Collaboratories”, in which Master’s students cooperate with practice partners to develop, say, approaches to sustainable meat consumption in Switzerland, and the “SIMagination Challenge” learning module, in which Master’s students work on international development projects. What is required on the part of professors are competencies which are more strongly geared to the design of learning experiences and the coaching of students than to a profound knowledge in particular academic disciplines. This, too, will result in a need for increased learning and development.

Bild: Photocase / kallejipp

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