MLD-208 Moral Practice for Public Leadership with Chris Robichaud

For Chris Robichaud, HKS Senior Lecturer in Ethics and Public Policy, it’s not enough to teach interesting ethical principles: “I want students to see ethics all around them, not just as something we talk about in a classroom.” With HKS students aspiring to a wide variety of leadership positions, Robichaud’s new course, MLD-208: Moral Practice for Public Leadership explores how moral practice can inform, complement, and most importantly improve all sorts of good public leadership. This new course does not simply offer another theory of leadership—“moral leadership”—but instead Robichaud aims to foster “moral practice,” specifically, a set of exercises, activities, and methods, to teach students to cultivate their moral perception, moral imagination, and moral character, all of which are directed towards improved moral action in the public sphere.

Students will come away with insight into their own ethos, strategies on how to continue to develop it (a lifelong pursuit), and models on how to have it deeply inform their own public leadership practice.

Students in MLD-208 will explore cross-cultural philosophical traditions, ancient as well as contemporary, to learn about this conception of ethics, understood not merely as a set of intellectual doctrines—not merely as a kind of thinking or reasoning—but as an entire ethos—as a way of life. As a bonus, students will come to learn how several of the most popular notions in leadership studies—purpose, character, authenticity, happiness and more—have their roots in philosophy, roots worth examining. MLD-208 is therefore a valuable complement to other HKS leadership courses, such as MLD-201, -202, -204, -215, -340, 355 and -617M.

Chris Robichaud pointing and smiling against a purple background with a diagram behind him
Sr. Lecturer Chris Robichaud

Robichaud who also serves as the Director of Pedagogical Innovation at Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard is consistently one of the school’s most pedagogically innovative instructors. His focus ever since arriving at Harvard has been on developing ways to teach ethics to students through active experiences. “There’s a stickiness that comes out of ethical simulations; students remember the kind of learning they have around them,” he says. Recent HKS alums will always remember the “Zombie Apocalypse” exercise that Robichaud created and fielded during the school’s student orientation.

For more on Robichaud’s pedagogy, including a brief preview and discussion of the Zombie Apocalypse simulation, view his SXSW EDU 2021 conversation “Why Teach Students About Zombies & Superheroes”

See also Robichaud’s 2020 article with Tomer J. Perry in Journal of Political Science Education “Teaching Ethics Using Simulations: Active Learning Exercises in Political Theory” (Vol.16; No.2): 225-242.

In addition, says Robichaud, “I’ve tried to take popular entertainment, with a focus on scary movies and superheroes (things I love), and show that you really can extract some interesting lessons in moral philosophy and ethics from that entertainment.”   See, for example, this discussion with Robichaud courtesy of WIRED magazine, titled “Harvard Professor Explains What the Avengers Can Teach Us About Philosophy.” 

In keeping to form, MLD-208 will employ a variety of tools to accomplish its learning goals, from the “usual suspects”—cases, simulations, film and other forms of fiction—to new experiential exercises. Students will come away with insight into their own ethos, strategies on how to continue to develop it (a lifelong pursuit), and models on how to have it deeply inform their own public leadership practice.

MLD-208 will be offered in the fall semester at the Harvard Kennedy School. For questions about these courses, or any other in the MLD curriculum, email Greg Dorchak, MLD Area Administrator.