MBA Essay Tips for Describing an ethical dilemma that you faced and the way you resolved it
The honesty and integrity of a leader is what makes people admire him. If you are a person of high integrity – ethically, legally and morally, then you have the confidence to go the extra mile, do more than what you had promised and you will not find a single obstacle on your way. The world always admires and benefits those that have high integrity. This is an important mantra for garrisoning the top list of winners. Therefore, in this essay the admissions committee wants to know about a situation where your values, ethics and morals have been challenged and the way you dealt with it. They aim in finding out how you have employed your leadership skills to deal with a certain problem without ethically going against your conscience. To be very honest, no one can ever deny of being trapped in such kind of situation. You too have something similar to discuss, but, the reason to worry about is, how you share such an experience without your integrity being questioned. Choosing the right topic to share is the most difficult aspect of this essay, as your topic lets the admission committee test your values and character.
This essay is to help analyze your judgment in face of adversity. Hence you may discuss the following points;
Explain the situation and the challenge that made you the most uncomfortable.
- Clearly explain your options and why the ethical alternative was the difficult one.
- Discuss what made you fall in such a situation?
- Explain what did you do to overcome the challenge and delineate your decision making process. Discuss the techniques you adopted to deal with the situation. Explain how your personal values helped you in handling it.
- Conclude with the result of your action and how successful you were in maintaining your integrity?
- Mention why and how was this experience valuable?
- Explain the lessons you learnt and the way it impacted you as a person/leader.
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Prompt: Please describe an ethical issue that you have faced in your professional life, how you dealt with the situation and what the outcome was.
After fighting for years to be promoted to the position of tank company executive officer, I believed that transitioning into the role would be relatively easy. I could not have been more mistaken. As soon as the paperwork settled and I donned my new uniform, I encountered an ethical dilemma that cast all of my previous training into doubt.
The officer I replaced had been less than forthcoming in his maintenance reports to the company and battalion commanders. The officer had fabricated data on the number of maintenance problems in order to look better in the eyes of his superiors. This presented me with a tricky problem. Army command needs an accurate count of battle-ready tanks in case of deployment. Companies send weekly reports on the maintenance status of their tanks to their battalion, and this data is passed on to the highest levels of army command. The army aims for ninety percent readiness in case of war.
The outgoing officer's dishonesty was inconsistent with my (and his) military training; officers trained at the United States Military Academy take an oath from the first day of matriculation to maintain a strict standard of integrity. The cadet creed states that, "a cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do." I internalized this creed at the academy, and I became unyielding in my forthrightness. I could not overlook my fellow officer's behavior, but was it right for me to report him?
The army is built on trust because soldiers must be able to rely on each other if they find themselves in combat. A soldier must trust the soldiers around him, and he must be willing to give his life to protect them. If I reported the dishonest commander, I would be compromising this trust and would lose face among my peers. An unspoken rule among officers forbids one from voluntarily surrendering another unless his negligence has led to the injury or death of a soldier. The outgoing executive officer was well liked, and I risked becoming unpopular with my men if I reported his infraction. Fudging numbers on maintenance reports was not uncommon, and I faced considerable pressure to overlook the impropriety.
I had two options: I could send an honest report exposing the preceding officer's fraudulent reporting, or I could falsify reports myself, thus protecting his career. Neither option was palatable.
To buy more time, I convinced the company commander to give me an additional week before submitting my report. I ordered the maintenance team chief to work overtime on the problems that were easiest to fix. I also met with the previous officer to discuss his behavior. He said that his actions were like everyone else's, and that no one cared about inaccurate numbers. He may have been right, but I did not find his argument compelling. I told him I would do my best to repair the unit, but that any remaining problems would be reported at the week's end. He was slightly concerned about looking bad to battalion command, but he appreciated my honesty and the efforts I was taking on his behalf.
After a week of almost constant work by mechanics and tankers, four of the six damaged tanks had been repaired. I sent an honest report to the company and battalion commanders documenting the state of affairs. Tank breakdowns are fairly frequent in the army, so the two out-of-service vehicles did not raise suspicion. The outgoing executive officer did receive some harsh words from the company commander, but nothing of great consequence. I had maintained my integrity and minimized damage to my fellow officer. Although I still question the propriety of not exposing his negligence, the decision I made allowed me to preserve the trust of my men and the exacting standards of the army.
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This is an effective story that clearly lays out the complexity of the ethical dilemma you faced. Your unwillingness to submit fraudulent maintenance data is admirable, and I am sure that your comportment in this situation will leave a favorable impression on the admissions committee.
However, there were certain changes that would make your essay better. First, your essay relies too heavily on technical military language. You need to vary your voice to keep the essay interesting. Some of the phrases you use are too specialized and could confuse a reader who is unfamiliar with military terminology. You should set layman (or, in this case, civilian) comprehension as the bar for your essay, and you should not use terminology that is excessively specialized. I have shown how to vary your language below.
In addition, your essay was several hundred words over the word limit. I have suggested cutting out unnecessary details.
Throughout the essay, I took liberties to correct stylistic and grammatical problems. My changes largely took the form of making sentence transitions smoother and more compelling, varying sentence structure to keep the reader interested, and pruning unnecessary words to increase sentence comprehension and coherence. I consciously tried to leave your own voice and ideas intact.
Here are my specific comments on each individual paragraph of your essay:
It is useful to break up long paragraphs in order to highlight important ideas and to make your argument flow more naturally. In the introductory paragraph, for example, it is effective to use short and suggestive sentences that pull your reader into the piece and make him curious about the details that follow.
"Taking over as a tank company executive officer I did not expect to have a difficult first week of work."
This sentence strikes your reader as funny, if not absurd. To a reader with a civilian job, the position of "tank company executive officer" seems inherently challenging. Your assertion that you did not expect it to be difficult therefore leaves a strange impression. See the revised treatment of this idea in the edit that follows.
"...number of tanks that are maintenance down..."
This is an example of military terminology that needed to be changed to be more comprehensible. My proposed rewritten sentence reads: "Army command needs to have an accurate count of battle-ready tanks in the case of deployment."
"When certain parts are broken on a tank it is non-mission capable, which means that it cannot be operated effectively."
This is too obvious to require pointing out.
"The army standard is to have 90% of the battalion's equipment, primarily the tanks, ready to fight."
This is too wordy and should be shortened to give it more punch. Here is what I suggest: "The army aims for ninety percent readiness in case of war."
I suggest that you paint your specific ethical dilemma in starker terms. You do not adequately develop the tension between your commitment to integrity and your unwillingness to report a fellow officer.
"...and became unquestionable with my integrity."
This comes across as too dramatic. You need to show through examples that you had become uncompromising in your commitment to truth rather than to state it directly.
"Coming into a situation where my fellow army officer had not been adhering to the same standards was difficult for me. While I disagreed with what he had done, I developed a good relationship with most of the officers in the battalion and felt a need to try to help my fellow soldier without directly informing my superiors how bad the situation had become."
You should show that your decision not to turn in the officer was more complex than this and that you had to balance different concerns.
Your original essay did not give a strong enough impression that you considered turning in your fellow officer, which would have been consistent with your oath, "not to tolerate those who [lie]." I have suggested expanding this discussion to make it more believable.
"...cause me to loose face among my peers. I would lose the trust of some, especially those closest to the officer that was identified as the dishonest one. The out-going executive officer was well liked in the battalion and I am sure that a conflict between his friends and I would have ensued."
This calculus is a bit cynical; it is inadvisable to show how considerations of your friends' opinions impacted your decision. I suggest tweaking these sentences to leave a more powerful impression. See below for my proposed treatment.
The flow of your original essay, especially between paragraphs, was a bit strained. I suggested several new transition sentences and phrases to make the essay read more smoothly.
"...no one really cared if the numbers where a little off. I told him that I cared..."
In addition to incorrect diction, this comes across as too brash and self-congratulatory. I suggest the following instead: "...no one really cared about inaccurate numbers. He may have been right, but I did not find his argument compelling."
With all the changes I have proposed, you will have to use your judgment and accept only those which you think are best.
Overall, your essay has been refined into a very strong personal statement that shows your admirable handling of a difficult situation. I wish you the best of luck in the admissions process.
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