Mary Gentile PhD gives voice to values and fills a longstanding critical gap in the development of values centered leaders. Her book Giving Voice to Values innovates new ways of including values driven leadership in business education and the workplace.
Join Dr. Michelle St Jane and Professor Mary Gentile on the topics of 🌎 impact, transformation, and living your values in life and leadership.
Mary’s legacy is the profound change in the approach to business ethics and values-driven leadership in academic and corporate institutions globally.
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About the Guest
Mary C. Gentile, Ph.D. Author of Giving Voice to Value.
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Intro: You're listening to Life and Leadership: A Conscious Journey. The podcast that shares wisdom and strength. Join your host, Dr. Michelle St Jane's conversation on how to have a positive impact for people, planet, and the wider world. If you want to live a life of intention, to be proactive with your time and bring your vision for the future to life one today at a time. You’re in the right place at the right time. Let's get started.
Michelle St Jane: [00:00:38] Mary Gentile Ph.D. gives voices to values and fills a longstanding critical gap in the development of values-centered leaders. Let’s look backward to look forwards to Giving Voice to Values.
Mary is a professor at the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business. She is educating for values-driven leadership. Mary is innovating new ways of values-driven leadership, its inclusion in business education and the workplace. She is all about challenging the assumptions about business ethics at companies and business schools.
Mary believes giving Voice to Values is a critical step towards developing value-centered leaders. Giving Voice to Values starts from the place that most of us wish to act on our values.
Michelle St Jane: Hope we have a reasonable chance of doing so effectively and successfully the questions to consider if I were going to act on my values:
💡 What would I say and do?
💡 How could I be the most effective?
Dan and Chip Heath authors of the ‘Switch’ and ‘Made to Stick’ said Mary’s book ‘Giving Voice to Values,’ “heralds a revolution and ethics education, this like a self-defense class for your soul.”
Michelle St Jane: [00:01:56] Welcome Mary. It is fantastic to have you here today. I want to lead off with:
What is the main purpose of Giving Voice to your Values?
You've been at this a long time.
Mary Gentile: [00:02:07] It's great to be here too, Michelle. Thank you. Yes. Giving Voice to Values or GVV as I referred to it, is an innovative approach to values-driven leadership development.
[00:02:17] I created it about 10 or 12 years ago and it grew out of my experience working with business schools, MBA education, and with companies around values and ethics in action and decision-making.
[00:02:38] Frankly it grew out of my frustration with the way we typically did corporate training and business education. I wanted to come up with what I think is a better approach.
Michelle St Jane: Well, I am very grateful. My doctorate engaged the top 20% of global leaders. I've discovered this Janus approach. They'd have their corporate CEO hat on, and it was profit at any price, the sacred money market as David Korten calls it.
[00:02:58] During these conversations, these CEOs would take off their hat and say, “as a father, as a grandfather, as a member of this community, I really struggle with this.” There was a massive contribution given to the research in terms of their willingness, to be honest, and be candid.
I'm very grateful to see what you've done. I'm curious to know, how did you come to write Giving Voice to Values?
Mary Gentile: I'd be happy to. As I say, it grew out of my experience as a faculty member and researcher at Harvard Business School for 10 years, I helped to create their first required curriculum around ethics and values and business decision-makers.
[00:03:43] Then I was consulting with other business schools and companies. Frankly, I became disillusioned. I became discouraged by the way we approach these issues. We tend to do approach them as if they were entirely cognitive issues. You know, if we're going to give you a good decision-making framework when we would teach you the rules and we'd teach you the philosophical models of thinking.
[00:04:06] Then we'd give you some dilemmas. You would put the dilemma in the box of the framework and then the right answer would come out the other side. Then we were done.
I call it the Preach and Pretend Method. We'd preach to you about what's right. Then we'd pretend you could do it.
[00:04:21] I became frustrated because what I saw was that sure there were those issues that were complicated, that people needed help thinking through. But that wasn't the end of it.
There were a lot of issues where many of us knew what we thought the right thing to do was we just didn't necessarily think it was possible.
[00:04:40] It's the example you gave of the Janus face CEO, you know, on the one hand they feel like they must do one thing. On the other hand, they're not so comfortable with it. I think that happens all the way down the organization. It's not just the CEO who feels these conflicts.
I was frustrated and I took a step back from the work because I just felt that what we were doing was at best futile and maybe at worst a little bit hypocritical.
[00:05:06] Then I started to come across research in several different disciplines like:
I started gathering stories from managers at every level. Right out of business school to CEOs in the C-suite. I started to hear stories of people who were saying, you know, I have this values conflict, and I found a way to act effectively, or maybe they didn't. They have regretted it.
Mary Gentile: [00:05:34] I started to see from the research that maybe this entirely cognitive approach wasn't really the most effective way to do it.
I started learning that a lot of the psychology is suggesting that if you really want to have an impact on people's behavior, that:
⭕ peer coaching, and
⭕ literally practice
[00:06:00] Were a more effective way to help people. It's because we were learning from the psychologies that many of us, when we encounter a value, we tend to react automatically, emotionally, even unconsciously.
Then we rationalize after the fact:
✔️why it was the right thing to do, or
✔️the only thing we could do.
When you approach it intellectually, you're not getting at that emotional reaction.
Mary Gentile: [00:06:23] What I was thinking is what we really needed to do was to create a different approach. We created what we call the giving voice to values, a thought experiment.
I would never ask you, Michelle, “what would you do in this scenario?” Instead, I give you a scenario where the protagonist would know what he or she thought the right thing to do was, and then question to you:
🤔How could they be successful?
🤔What would they need to say and do, and
🤔What would the pushback be?
🤔What would they say and do, and,
🤔Would they do this alone or
🤔Would they have to build a network?
🤔Is it one conversation, or
🤔Is this a systemic issue?
That's going to require a long-term kind of strategy.
[00:07:05] We get people literally rehearsing and practicing and creating what I call moral muscle memory. The idea is that you've literally, instead of a cognitive, you're literally rewiring that reaction. Now when I encounter these scenarios, I have examples in mind that people who've addressed similar situations have done so effectively. I've also practiced some of the scripts and action plans that might be effective.
[00:07:29] What I was learning from all my story collection is that these, uh, reactions and resistance and objections are fairly predictable. They're powerful, but they're not bulletproof, but it's really hard to come up with ways to address them at the moment.
[00:07:53] And that's why we have those emotional reactions. So instead, I'm literally trying to give you. This sort of safe space is a kind of laboratory to practice and rehearse and build muscle memory.
Michelle St Jane: [00:08:06] I could unpack a million things from that. Instead, I think what I'll do is share some experience.
[00:08:12] I score very high as an optimist and an idealist. I know my values and what I value. But in the very early days of my career, back in the early nineties, with a background in insurance and banking and I knew a fair bit about insurance for directors and officers (D&O). At the time there were these directors and officers holding about three or 400 directorships.
[00:08:38] That was the norm. There I was a newly minted lawyer with this insurance background. I raised the issue and said, “Is this wise, if you have an impact and there is very high profitability of an impact, it will affect your premiums. It will affect your reputation as bankers.” Today we call this risk management. Then they didn't like it. I basically got told “this is how we do it. You’re a junior, go about your business.”
A career challenging moment because if:
🚩 If I did not speak up, my integrity is on the line.
🚩 If I do speak up, my career and credibility are on the line.
Plus, there were not a lot of women in these business areas at that time.
My second experience was when I had the chance to work in the re-insurance industry at a time of rapid commercialization of near-Earth space.
[00:09:29] Satellites and rockets were going up. I was right up close to seeing how they were financed. Basically, they either blew up or went up and became space junk.
Again, this is the nineties. Again, I was too far ahead of my time. I'm saying, “this is not a good idea. Do we really want all this near-Earth orbit junk circling?”
[00:09:51] Again, I was probably, well ahead of the days before risk management. Again, I'm asking, “Why are we working as reverently on financing this, as we are not resolving the issues and problems being created in the space environment. Of course, I didn't have the lexicon at that time. Basically, the standard response was “Don't worry about it.” But I was very worried about,
[00:10:18] I'd seen the Columbia explode. I'd seen the Challenger explode. Again, I was met with “this is how we do it.” Certainly, people were not speaking up.
Then my doctorate, believe it or not, I was able to get diverse field work participants, religious diversity, geographical diversity with global CEOs. But I couldn't get women to participate.
[00:10:42] Women willing to speak. Even with the great lengths gone to in the field research with confidentiality. They said no. The basic comeback I got was, “we're not like you. You will take the risk of speaking truth to power.” I'm paraphrasing.
I was like if I stand alone, and I did, nonetheless, but that was what women leaders were saying to me six or seven years ago, “no”.
[00:11:10] I'm like, wow. Like this is not cool, but that's what it was. And it became one of the major research outcomes.
I'm very glad to know you have been out there. In fact, you're actively building pilots and education and business. Aren't you? I think a statistic I saw was you're up to about 1300 pilots now.
Mary Gentile: [00:11:31] Well, over that. We give much of this away for free. Those are just the people who've contacted me.
Michelle St Jane: That's a great way of getting that out. And you're also out there, spreading the word both educationally and corporate. Was it by choice or by chance?
[00:12:00] I've been working in this field for a number of decades. As I said, I got frustrated about 10 or 12 years ago and just stopped. Once I came up with this idea of GVV, I was fortunate to have support from the Aspen Institute in the US and then Yale School of Management.
[00:12:25] We developed the approach as a pilot. I didn't know if anyone would be interested. I just started to ask people I knew to pilot it, to try it. I hoped it would expand to more business schools. I really didn't know. I had no idea it would expand as far as it has. I mean, it's now not just being used in MBA programs, but undergraduate business.
[00:12:48] It's being used in companies around the world. We're starting to move into healthcare, engineering, law, the military, and the police. It's gone beyond the original vision. I really just had this idea and I thought it's an idea, nobody owns ideas. I tried to approach it in a kind of design thinking. Put it out there and encourage people to play with it and make it better than what I thought of.
What's nice, although I wrote the original book, which came out 10 years ago, I guess, now people are writing new cases and developing new books.
[00:13:32] There's a GVV book series from Rutledge publishing, and it's mostly written by other people who are applying it to their field, whether it's law or sustainability or accounting or healthcare. That's been really satisfying to me.
[00:13:52] I was listening to what you were saying though, about some of the experiences that you've had. And it's interesting to me, you know, that we all can think of times when something happened, we tried, and nothing happened or maybe we didn't try. That's real. I don't want to pretend that that doesn't happen because of course, it does. I also don't want us to assume that nothing can happen. You can find people who have acted effectively. Sometimes it really requires an incremental process, over time.
You talked about being ahead of your time. Sometimes the vocabulary doesn't exist. Sometimes you don't have a receptive audience. Sometimes you need to build a set of allies to sort of move it forward.
[00:14:35] It can't be one voice. I remember giving a talk once and there was a woman in the audience who was listening to me, talk about giving voice to values. While I spoke, she was in the back of that. The audience, I could see her face, getting a little redder. She was agitated. When I finished speaking and I opened up for comments or questions, her hand shot up right away.
[00:14:58] I called on her and she said, “well, I just think this is stupid.” I asked her, “okay, say a little more.” She said “I can say, well, I don't need giving voice to values. I always voiced my values.” Then she paused, so I said to her, “you know, that's the point of this. If what we want is to feel righteous. You can stamp your foot and shake your fist and speak truth to power. But if you want to actually have an impact. It might require some different strategies.”
I always tell people it's not easy and it doesn't always work, but it's important. We can get better at it because part of what got me doing this is because after teaching in business schools for quite a while, I became discouraged.
[00:15:51] I thought it's impossible to do this because all I heard when we would raise ethical dilemmas in class were students talking about why we really can't do it. Telling stories like the ones that you honestly just told.
I thought, well, maybe you can't. Then I started hearing from other people. Gathering stories of times when people had been effective.
[00:16:15] Then I saw the research I was telling you about. I was thinking maybe we're going about this wrong. Where we're talking about it as if you have to just sort of fall on your sword and be a martyr for ethics.
Maybe what's more effective is to kind of normalize values conflicts. They are not this rare. We have them every day, little ones, big ones with our family, with our friends.
Mary Gentile: [00:16:38] We could kind of normalize it. We could draw on the same skills we use when we try and promote a good idea in our organizations, whatever it is. Draw on those same skills. And if we can be patient, when it's really a systemic issue, those challenges are not things going to turn around in a conversation. They require:
🧰 building an audience,
🧰 building an understanding.
Like, people are beginning to understand more about climate change now than they did 10 years ago. I think we don't train people for that.
Mary Gentile: [00:17:21] People who were really effective communicators and managers, when it came to those ethical issues, would dumb themselves down. It's like suddenly they felt the only strategy was to fall on their sword and be this small. I would say, “no, you're really good at reframing problems. You're really good at being persuasive. You're really good at selling an idea. Why don't you apply those same skills when it comes to values and ethics?” I'm just actually trying to help people be more practical about getting it done.
Michelle St Jane: [00:18:01] Well put. I like to lead by example. As the Chilean, Paolo Freire said “make the path by walking.” That's really been where I've pioneered. Just because there are no social enterprise law firms, well, build one.
Because I can't go around the world doing public speaking. Let me build a podcast to be my virtual podium and share my doctorate and wonderful authors like yourself and others.
I would just reference back. Sometimes there are conversations to be had. When I was thinking about the doctorate, I ended up writing a song and publishing the song, which was played for a United Nations PRIME committee. Principles Responsible Management Education in New Zealand in 2013. It led to the doctorate. Then my field work actually doubled and went twice as long or 50% longer. Then I finished it with a graphic. A very unusual mixed media doctorate. Poor management school that doesn't quite know what to do with me, as I said, I just made the path by walking. I needed to do that. Sometimes you have to have the courage to do that.
Clearly, your courage has been celebrated with the numerous awards and recognition that you've received in this area.
What are you most proud of?
Mary Gentile: [00:19:32] Oh, geez. What am I most proud of? Well, you know, I guess one of the things I'm proud of is trying to reframe the whole idea of moral courage. I tend to think about it as moral competence.
What I found is that when you talk about courage, moral courage, it very much appeals to some folks. But a lot of folks will sort of disqualifying themselves.
[00:19:52] They'll say, yeah, that's nice. If you can afford it, you know, like the women. I'm not against courage. I mean, I think it's important and good. I'm glad it's there.
I also feel like a lot of these situations, if we frame them more as opportunities for moral competence, more people could get engaged in them.
[00:20:13] There are seven pillars for giving voice to values. One of them is normalization. You'll make it normal, draw on your full complement of skills.
I think the idea of teaching and training around values and ethics is in fact evolving. Actually, helping people develop the skill to act on those rules and to not frame it as separating good people from bad people, but actually helping people understand.
[00:20:47] We've all acted effectively on our values at some point. We've all failed to do so in others. Let's figure out what works for me and play to our strengths and practice them. If you're an introvert, you may do it very differently than an extrovert. If you're a risk-averse person, you might do it very differently. I find that anyone can do it. You just do it differently, you know?
Michelle St Jane: I'm very grateful that you're collecting the stories because I'm sharing my stories on the podcast. I'm a great believer in failing fast, but share the wisdom gained. It's so important.
To your point about rules, I believe rules are to be broken and boundaries to be broadened because they're not working.
Michelle St Jane: [00:21:30] I really celebrate. Then you brought this out, the book Giving Voice to Values: An Innovation and Impact Agenda co-edited with Jerry Goodstein (2021).
Mary Gentile: What was the most interesting thing that came out of collecting these thought leadership contributions it was really a fun book to do. It's been about 10 years or a little more since we started GVV. The original book concept was giving voice to values, how to speak your mind. When you know it's right.
[00:22:01] This book has 15 chapters. Captured by folks in accounting, there's a chapter about law, there's a chapter about medicine and there's a chapter from Africa and China. What's fun is it's showing that this kind of approach can be applied in so many different contexts.
[00:22:26] Often in the beginning is people would say, “well, it's a nice idea, Mary, but it won't work here.” What's really encouraging about this book is talking about people in all those places where folks said it wouldn't work, who've actually been using it. That's been very exciting.
[00:22:43] I'm hoping that the book will inspire people in lots of different settings to think about what. To use this methodology
in their management practices,
✔️in their training,
✔️in their education, and
✔️in their own personal lives.
One of the exciting things, there is a chapter about technology and ways that technology can help expand the impact of giving voice to values.
[00:23:09] We have MOOCs and interactive online cohort-based modules, training, and Avatar simulations. We're starting to write cases that address issues like racial bias in artificial intelligence algorithms. It has implications for so many different things.
Michelle St Jane: Mary I'm interested to know - as you look back and as you look forward - if you had the ability to do anything, you could what's next.
Mary Gentile: The way I think of my life is I'm planting all these seeds. They come up when I least expect them. If I say, “I want to do X, I feel like you can force it too much, and you can actually engender resistance.” What I want is for people to own the idea, I don't feel like I own GVV. You don't need to always have me involved, although I'm happy to help. I feel like I want people to own it and take it to new places that I could never have taken.
[00:24:23] I just want to be helpful; I would love to see the implications for what I'm doing around two topics, wildlife conservation. I'm just an animal person. My father was a veterinarian. I know it's a particular issue here in the U.S. I think it's an issue globally.
[00:24:48] I think right now our world is in a place where it's very hard to find a set of facts, they exist, that people agree that they exist. I'd like to think about how some of the pools we've developed for voicing your values. When you have a common set of facts, how they might be helpful in helping bridge these connections when people really are just starting from. A different belief system in terms of what reality is. And I think it's a challenge we're facing.
Michelle St Jane: That leads me to my next question. In terms of research and data:
Mary Gentile: Yeah, it's interesting. The work that I was inspired by when I first created, given what values has only grown, there's much more research around behavioral ethics, behavioral economics, social psychology, cognitive neurosciences, where people talk about.
[00:25:50] Creating new neural pathways research on habit formation. There's more and more of that kind of research out there. What's interesting is that a lot of the research around social psychology and behavioral ethics sort of points out the degree to which we don't always act the way we say we will act. We don't, people will say, “I think integrity is important,” but then lie, things like that.
[00:26:13] I think that decision-making biases and heuristics, you know, people will say, I believe in clear thinking and fairness, but then they will be influenced by biases and decision rules of thumb and things like that. That skews their thinking bias, their thinking. I think it's really, this research is really important. I think it's been very helpful.
[00:26:33] Unfortunately, I think sometimes the way it gets taught. To see everybody lies, you know, and it doesn't empower people than to do something about it, to act, it simply feeds a kind of skepticism or even sentences. I feel that given with values, it's more the perfect pedagogy for this kind of research.
[00:26:56] For example, we know that people tend to fall prey to certain biases, whether it's discounting the future and overweighting the short term, or whether it's groupthink or whether it's false consensus bias, things like that. We know that we're vulnerable to those. We know from the research that just because I know about them now doesn't make me proof against them.
[00:27:21] It means I may recognize it when you Michelle falls prey to them, but I'm still going to think that way. I'm still going to be biased in that. I think giving voice to values is the perfect pedagogy for this because we don't villainize these biases. There, they developed for evolutionary, useful reasons.
[00:27:38] If you're running away from a saber tooth tiger, you really can't think short-term, right? I mean, in the long term, you must think short term.
What are we trying to do with GVV is to name the bias and then actually try and use it in our creating scripts and actions? If I'm arguing a position and I may argue for the long-term benefits of acting ethically but let me think about some short-term benefits as well, or maybe some short-term costs that I can avoid.
[00:28:06] In other words, I can try and understand how we think I can name the bias and then try and trigger it in the direction I'd like people to begin to be open. I think that that is the beginning of the answer to the earlier question I was talking about, which is what do we do when people are starting from a different assumed sets of facts?
Michelle St Jane: What made you smile this month?
Mary Gentile: [00:28:45] This month, I'm getting to be with some friends for the first time in over a year in person. The weather got warm. We could be outside together. That was kind of a great relief
[00:29:07] I feel fortunate because the work I do has been able to continue virtually like this. In fact, I think it's probably accelerated during the COVID pandemic. You're not spending three days flying to, and from Australia. You're just staying here, doing it one afternoon. There is something wonderful about being with people.
Michelle St Jane: Absolutely. I must confess. I met in person in real-time, girl.
Mary Gentile: Although it's nice that you've created this series for this period.
Michelle St Jane: [00:29:33] Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I accidentally fell into the podcasting. I have had quite a variety of careers. This is like my fourth career. Degrees in three different disciplines and lots of geographical transfers.
Michelle St Jane: [00:29:57] When people look at it all, they're like, “what are you thinking?” When I'm in the lanes of my values, it's totally clear.
I'm into wisdom generating and conversation capturing. I have my passion. The podcast was a divine wink. Thank you for the legacy, the impact, the transformation that you create around Giving Voicing your Values, and share any last words.
Mary Gentile: [00:30:22] I just want to thank you for the opportunity to share Giving Voice to Values with your audience. Thank you for the work you're doing to have these conversations. I think it's great. If people are interested in learning more about how companies use GVV or schools or any other organization, they should feel free to be in touch.
Michelle St Jane: [00:30:40] I'll have all your details in the show notes. I'm a big believer in sharing the good news and celebrating the work. Thank you, Mary.
Outro: Dr. Michelle St Jane is a conscious steward as meaningful leadership in the world and the wider cosmos. Tune in for real talk around life, leadership, and your conscious journey. Be ready to create and cultivate your dreams and wholehearted desires. Your support is valued. Please follow, subscribe, leave a review and a rating. More importantly, share with your connections.
Reach out. I am interested to hear from you. Do you have a topic you'd like to explore? It would be great to have your feedback.
Dr. Michelle St Jane
Podcast Host: Life & Leadership: A Conscious Journey
Let’s Get Social
Creator/Director/ University of Virginia Darden School of Business
Mary C. Gentile, Ph.D. Author of Giving Voice to Values (www.GivingVoiceToValuesTheBook.com),
Richard M. Waitzer Bicentennial Professor of Ethics, who is based at UVA-Darden. Mary C. Gentile, PhD, , is Creator/Director of Giving Voice to Value; Professor of Practice at University of Virginia Darden School of Business; Senior Advisor, Aspen Institute Business & Society Program; and independent consultant.
Richard M. Waitzer Bicentennial Professor of Ethics