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Student Reflections on Integrative Leadership

By Stephanie Austin

Students from the Spring 2010 "Integrative Leadership: From Theory to Practice" course, taught by Professors Jay Kiedrowski and Paul Vaaler, will post their reflections on integrative leadership throughout the course of the semester on the Time to Lead blog.

As I was registering for spring semester - my last semester of classes before a long-awaited graduation from the part-time MBA program - I noticed this class called Integrative Leadership offered in conjunction with the Humphrey Institute. The course description was something like "strategic challenges linking business, government, and society" and I was immediately intrigued. I have spent the last five years working in chambers of commerce and I thought this was a subject that I already had some understanding of and that it would be relevant to my career. During the course of this seminar, however, my knowledge and understanding of integrative leadership has deepened considerably and I have been surprised at the numerous and varied examples of integrative leadership in practice that we have studied.

One of my favorite sessions was with Marilyn Carlson Nelson and Carlson Companies' partnership with ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) on the adoption of ECPAT's Code of Conduct. Carlson Companies is the only US-based multi-national hotel chain to sign the Code and faces significant business risks in doing so. According to Arrow (1973), "an ethical code is useful only if it is widely accepted...above all it must be clearly perceived that the acceptance of these ethical obligations by everybody does involve mutual gain."

The code that Carlson signed was voluntary and not widely accepted by their competitors. If the code was compulsory then Carlson Companies wouldn't have to worry that it will bear excessive cost for its good behavior, the cost would be shared among others. As it stands Carlson Companies may be at a competitive disadvantage because of their commitment. For instance, in the case we studied, Carlson Companies was considering abandoning a lucrative project in Costa Rica strictly because of their commitment to the code. Unfortunately, since many other firms have not adopted the ECPAT Code, they could have taken the opportunity to capture this market if Carlson had abandoned the project.

It has been interesting to see the choices many companies make when it comes to collaborating across sectors. Many firms engage in these types of partnerships but not many are willing to bear the risk that Carlson Companies has. Despite this risk, Carlson has not found their commitment to be a hindrance to their business in any way. They are a great example of strong leadership on an individual, organizational and societal level.

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