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Moral Complexity in Leadership: Empathy "Mrs. Sen's," by Jhumpa Lahiri


The "Moral Complexity in Leadership" series of cases and teaching notes help business instructors harness the power of fiction to prepare students for the moral and ethical dilemmas they will face throughout their careers. Meaningful fiction challenges students intellectually and emotionally; it reveals the inner worlds of human players and enables learning that can be difficult to access through case studies, commentary, or reporting. Through literature, students will wrestle with the kinds of problems they will face as leaders looking to make courageous decisions aligned with their moral codes.

The works in this series represent a wide range of settings, viewpoints, and cultural frameworks; the characters are complex and contradictory, and the systems within which they operate (whether family, organizational, or cultural) influence them in varied ways. They have been taught to executive, full- and part-time MBA student audiences for many years.

The series aims to increase students' understanding of moral frameworks and enhance their skills in facilitating and participating in healthy and productive dialogue about complex and provocative issues.

In this installment of the series, "Empathy," we examine Jhumpa Lahiri's short story "Mrs. Sen's," about an 11-year-old American boy who spends his after-school hours at the apartment of his babysitter, an Indian woman married to a university professor. The author's frequent theme of what she has called the "tension between alienation and assimilation" are highlighted here, as well. The story gives students the opportunity to discuss deep themes such as sacrifice for one's own or a partner's career; coming to terms with a bicultural life and managing the expectations of one's home family and friends; facing a lack of empathy and curiosity about one's points of view and background; and how the simplest of human connections can transform an individual's experience.




Brooke Vuckovic, Rebecca Talbot

Date Published



Management;General Management

Key Concepts

Business ethics, Empathy and compassion, India, Leadership, Leadership development, Leadership qualities, Moral leadership, Personal ethics, Values-based leadership


Vuckovic, Brooke, and Rebecca Talbot. Moral Complexity in Leadership: Empathy "Mrs. Sen's," by Jhumpa Lahiri. Case 5-123-005 (KE1260).


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