Making the Higher Call

Decisions, decisions: an ethics course that won’t put you to sleep.

Course: Ethical Fitness Seminar at the Institute for Global Ethics

When: Three times a year; next: October 12

Class Size: 18

Cost: $395

Mission: Provides an ethical framework for sorting out tough dilemmas


Just the thought of an ethics course can put you to sleep — let alone the course itself, which across corporate America means dry lectures on compliance codes or campy videos about “diversity sensitivity.”

But strip away the jargon and canned depictions of office reality, and you’ll find that learning how to deal with ethical dilemmas will make you a better decision maker overall. “The really tough decisions for executives are not ones of right versus wrong, but a choice between two rights,” says instructor Rushworth Kidder.

Kidder’s institute, which has consulted for Accenture and MetLife, has presented this right-versus-right model to more than 20,000 students. Attendees learn that most dilemmas take one of four forms of conflict: truth versus loyalty, individual versus community, short term versus long term, and justice versus mercy. Once you decide which conflict you’re facing, it’s a matter of choosing based on one of three values. Your solution will be “ends-based” (you want to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people); “rules-based” (setting a universal standard is most important to you); or “care-based” (you want to practice the golden rule).

Student evaluation: Sarah Cox, a senior manager of organizational development at LL Bean, took the course in 2000. Since then, she has used the model with other execs to maintain the retailer’s environmental values as it develops new ventures. “The course materials weren’t just theoretical, and I liked that,” she says. “It’s definitely for people who want to make better day-to-day decisions.”

Want to go? Get more info at

Can’t go? Kidder’s How Good People Make Tough Choices (Simon & Schuster, 1996) provides the basis for the course’s concepts. His new book, Moral Courage (Morrow, 2005), helps put your values into action.