Defining purpose, sustainability and impact with Caryn Beck-Dudley
The CEO of one of the world’s largest business school accreditors talks to UNLEASH about what the next generation of leaders should look like.
Why You Should Care
It's very difficult to do business if the planet's on fire. Caryn Beck-Dudley is not wrong.
Discover more about the future of business schools in this exclsuive interview with UNLEASH.
Listen above or read the full transcript beneath, which has been edited for clarity.
Jon Kennard: Ok, I’m very pleased to welcome to UNLEASHcast today, Caryn Beck-Dudley from the AACSB. For our listeners and viewers, and just some general context, please tell us a little bit about the AACSB as an organization.
Caryn Beck-Dudley: Well, Jon, thanks for having me. AACSB is the world’s largest creditor of business schools. We have over 950 business schools worldwide, that we accredit, and we have I think over 1800 members, giving us a scope that means we impact 4 million students globally, and another 60,000 faculty.
And so our primary is our role as a creditor, but we’re also a convener and connector of businesses, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), government and business schools. And what we’d like to say is what we really do is transform global leaders for positive societal impact.
JK: Let’s talk a bit more about societal impact and particularly societal impact on the future of work. It’s a large question, I don’t expect to solve it today, but there are certain things we can talk about. The first question I’m wondering is, do you think that wider societal problems are going to impact the future of work? Because there’s a blurring of lines between life and work where you see a lot more people working remotely, hybrid working, certainly in the ‘knowledge economy’ as we’re going to call it. Do you think this is making people make more connections between societal problems and business problems?
CBD: Perhaps. It sure feels like, and our surveys show this, that businesses are changing. And more importantly, even students are changing. So many of the students who are currently in business schools, as well as in other areas of the university, expect the businesses they work for, to have purpose as well as profit.
And so we’re seeing a lot of students asking, if I’m going to go to a business with a purpose, I also want my business school to have a purpose and to prepare me for that future, where historically we have probably prepared our students very, very well for a business, which just has a profit motive. And we see that changing, especially in the new environment, where you’re blurring work/life balance, and a variety of other things, as well as all the global challenges, which we call wicked problems that are out there.
JK: Interesting. ‘Wicked problems’ is a term that I published a piece on quite recently, actually. Yeah, another thing that we see as becoming quite prevalent in the conversation is the ESG agenda – environmental, social, and governance goals. This has helped businesses a lot to see the importance of societal issues, such as climate change, but how else can you make the business case for the importance of these ESG goals?
CBD: Well, I think we all want a planet we can live on, we can just start there. It’s very difficult to do business if the planet’s on fire. And we see a lot of climate changes and sustainability issues across the globe. But more importantly than that, I think it helps businesses focus on all of their stakeholders, and not just one group of stakeholders.
And so if you’re a business with a purpose, then you really need to take into account what your community needs, what your employees need, what your suppliers need, what the government needs, as well as what a global environment looks like.
I really think the pandemic has shown us how inner-woven we all are, we might have thought that our business was relatively isolated and not impacted by global events. I’m not confident there’s any business out there or any actual individual out there that was not impacted by a global pandemic pretty significantly. And I think that’s awakened people to see the reason why a business needs to be involved in more than just profit.
JK: Yeah, completely. It certainly feels like we’re not through the other side of it completely. But we’re definitely in a place where we can think about positive actions off the back of the changes that have occurred, don’t you think?
CBD: You know, I’m hopeful, I really hope that we’ve learned a lot from it. I know I did. I started this position, actually, during the pandemic. So I spent the first two years really sitting in my office – my office actually was my house – talking on a screen. The advantage of that, and I don’t think we’ll give this up, is it allows a lot of work to be done with less travel, and so sustainability, carbon, footprinting, et cetera. So there was a lot of things that can be done without that type of travel or that type of depth.
On the flip side, I don’t know about you, but we really thought that there were some things that are significantly better face-to-face. And I think it makes us reevaluate how we spend time face to face. That face-to-face time is very important.
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When we gather people it really has to do with a purpose in mind. And for me, those were things like solving really difficult problems, having conversations that are difficult to have on Zoom. Brainstorming, I think is significantly easier face-to-face. As well as when there are differences among a group of people who have to make a decision. Being face to face smooths the process, I think quite radically.
I’m going to be interested to see what other best practices come out of living through a global pandemic, what other people are looking at, and what they see. And one last thing on that, Jon, I think it’s interesting; We’re working right now in a lot of corporations are on performance appraisal and performance evaluation.
How much face-to-face time you need to know whether somebody’s doing a good job, as opposed to being able to evaluate the product that they’ve produced, as opposed to seeing them in their office every day. And that’s also a really interesting challenge for businesses.
JK: Certainly, I think there’s a lot we can learn. Another thing alongside ESG, that we’re hearing a lot about is purpose-driven leadership. This is another common theme that I’m seeing I’m hearing from a lot of people I talk to, who contribute to UNLEASH as well. What does this term mean to you, and the AACSB as a whole?
CBD: AACSB is heavily invested in creating, we might call them ‘purpose-driven leaders’ or leaders that could lead organizations for positive societal impact. We have just finished our first collective, where business leaders across the globe, from business leaders, NGOs, and governments come up with what are the characteristics of a purpose-driven leader. And it was interesting, and not what you might expect.
We’ve heard about agility. We’ve heard about resilience, we’ve heard about emotional intelligence. But one of the areas that they’re exploring is being able to deal with paradox, which I think is a very interesting idea, being able to not only hold two positions that might conflict at the same time but be able to work through the uncomfortableness of that.
And we are going to have a societal impact conference, actually, in October, where we’ll be talking more about, what are the leadership characteristics of those types of purposeful leaders of the future? And then how do we ensure that business schools help produce those types of leaders as well as other areas? So those are the areas that I’m really interested in seeing and the areas, frankly, that business schools have traditionally not been involved in.
JK: That ties me nicely into my last question, in fact. So, we’ve talked about dealing with paradox. We’ve talked about the need for purpose, climate, societal impact, and what other behaviors should business leaders be modeling, to make a positive impact on society, then, in your opinion.
CBD: I think compassion would be another one. And compassion is more than empathy, you still have to act and you can be empathetic, that compassion is being able to take into account people’s circumstances. And where that leads them. Again, that’s a very important component. Also I think another important component is listening, being able to listen very carefully. That’s been a leadership skill forever, people aren’t very good at it, frankly.
And so being able to listen, and then being able to not form an opinion, from what you listen to, until you’ve gathered enough information or listened to enough individuals, and so we’re now working with our business schools, on training the faculty on how best to accomplish and how best to help students learn those skills while they’re in business school.
Oftentimes, it was thought that they would learn those skills at home, they would learn it through other activities, and business schools only needed to give students the subject matter and the discipline matter.
Most of that now is available for free on YouTube and a variety of other aspects. And so how do you train the faculty who spend a lot of time with the students to really instill those characteristics?
I believe, and I think the good pedagogy is out there, that it has to be practiced. It’s not something you learn about. It’s something you practice doing all the time, and you get better at it as you practice it. And so that really is a change in how traditionally business schools have prepared the leaders of the future.
JK: Right, completely agree. Caryn, thank you so much for your time. It’s been great to talk to you about a variety of issues. I gather you’re currently going to a lot of events through the AACSB. I hope they’ve been successful and have moved the agenda on as well.
CBD: They have, and we had our first major face-to-face event or national conference in New Orleans, in April, we have over 1200 people from around the globe attend personally. I’m currently right now in Oslo, Norway, with our European Middle Eastern African accreditation conference where we have over 250 individuals from the region.
And it is thrilling, frankly, to be with people again and talk to people get their ideas have been give us suggestions and get their insights. And so we’re glad to be back on the road as well as being able to hear from our members and see what they need and what we could do to help them.
JK: Great to hear. Okay, thanks again, and speak to you soon.
CBD: Thank you, Jon. I appreciate it.
For the full conversation – listen above…
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Jon has 20 years' experience in digital journalism and more than a decade in L&D and HR publishing.