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Moral Complexity in Leadership: Loyalty and the Cost of Excellence The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro


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, "Loyalty and the Cost of Excellence," focuses on the story told in Kazuo Ishiguro's prize-winning novel The Remains of the Day: that of Stevens, a butler in an English country house in the leadup to World War II, who exerts his emotional energy exclusively on his work duties while sublimating not only knowledge of his employer's Nazi sympathies but also personal relationships. The tale shines a light on several moral issues: what can happen when one gives complete loyalty to an individual or a possible undeserving organization or cause; the potential costs of sacrificing a well-rounded life to the pursuit of professional excellence; the limitations of having a "moral code" that is not accompanied by moral awareness, moral intention, and moral action.




Brooke Vuckovic, Rebecca Talbot

Date Published



General Management

Key Concepts

Business ethics, England, Leadership, Leadership development, Leadership qualities, Managing yourself, Moral leadership, Personal accountability


Vuckovic, Brooke, and Rebecca Talbot. Moral Complexity in Leadership: Loyalty and the Cost of Excellence The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Case 5-123-007 (KE1264).


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