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Moral Complexity in Leadership: Empathy "A Small, Good Thing," by Raymond Carver


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.

This installment of the series examines Raymond Carver's "A Small, Good Thing," in which married couple Howard and Ann find comfort from an unexpected source after losing their son. In the story, their child is hit by a car on the morning of his birthday and later dies. As his parents grieve, they receive threatening phone calls from a baker who is angry that Ann never picked up the cake she ordered. Once the baker discovers their son has died, he apologizes and they talk into the morning of loneliness and grief. Carver's story examines how humans sometimes fail to communicate effectively due to misinterpreted context.




Brooke Vuckovic, Rebecca Talbot

Date Published



General Management

Key Concepts

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


Vuckovic, Brooke, and Rebecca Talbot. Moral Complexity in Leadership: Empathy "A Small, Good Thing," by Raymond Carver. Case 5-223-253 (KE1274).


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