Dov Seidman is the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of LRN, a company that helps businesses develop ethical corporate cultures and inspire principled performance, and the author of HOW: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life). He recently took time to discuss LRN's mission, the importance of ethics in business, the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest and ethics training for students and professionals.
Enjoy the interview!
Can you tell us a little bit about LRN's mission?
Performance today is about much more than just numbers. At LRN, our mission is to help inspire principled performance in business. We help companies ensure they pursue their business endeavors in a principled way, day in and day out and in every corner of the world.
In your opinion, what are the most urgent ethical issues in business today?
The whole notion of sustainability is critically important. We need our leaders and institutions to re-conceive of how they build for growth. We need to abandon the kind of short-term thinking and short-sighted decision making that got us into our current economic troubles and instead focus on building truly sustainable enterprises. In its most important sense, sustainability is a long-term, integrated platform for innovation, growth and significance that requires a long-term commitment to how a company relates to people (employees, partners, customers, investors), to its communities and to the larger societies that give it permission to operate, and to the environments in which it conducts business. Building a truly sustainable company requires a shift in thinking and adoption of new habits where companies not only assert great values, they live them.
Why are ethical business practices so important in today's society?
The dynamics of our more connected and transparent world have placed a premium on our conduct. Today, how we do what we do more than what we do determines whether or not we survive and thrive. Today, everyone can see easily and deeply into our companies. Competitors can see, study and copy what we do. Customers and employees can see whether we're keeping our promises to them. And shareholders, community members and regulators can see how we're achieving what we say we're achieving. Our connectivity and transparency has placed a premium on conduct: as a result, the expectations we place on our conduct, as business people and human beings, are higher than ever. With these expectations come opportunities to embrace behavior as a unique and renewable source of sustainable differentiation. Companies that succeed in shaping employee conduct now have a unique opportunity to outbehave the competition.
LRN has partnered with The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity to challenge students to reflect on ethical matters. Can you tell us more about The Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest?
I can't think of a person whose life's work better stands as a testament to the notion of living a principled life. Elie Wiesel has dedicated himself to the idea of defending and living by ethical principles and values no matter how unpopular or dangerous. We are immensely proud to join with him and the Foundation as the sole corporate sponsors of the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics and in helping students to consider ethical issues at the most intellectually formative time of their lives. The Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest was established as an annual competition designed to challenge college students to analyze the urgent ethical issues confronting them in today's complex world. Students write thought-provoking essays based on personal experience that raise questions, single out issues and are rational arguments for ethical action. Thousands of students from hundreds of universities across the nation have participated over the years. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the prize, and we are planning several special elements to the prize in recognition of the Foundation's great work.
Would you recommend that students take an ethics course prior to leaving business school?
Absolutely, but one course is not enough. Just as Aristotle said that excellence is not a single act but a habit, I believe we have the opportunity to become excellent at pursuing performance in a principled and consistent way. I believe firmly that today, success is derived less by what and who you know and more about how you conduct yourself.