Why today’s MBA students must learn values-based decision-making

  • March 20, 2024
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 4 minute read

It’s the question every modern leader is trying to answer: What is the best way to lead a business into an uncertain future?

This year, the working world has been so fraught with change and economic fragility that the answer to this question has seemed impossible to grasp. How can we know anything for sure, and will the answer we found this year be the best answer again in the future?

A data-driven and values-based approach can shed light on the darkness. A leader who stays close to data and works in line with their values will be able to withstand economic fluctuation and navigate the opportunities that change brings with the team and resources they have at their disposal.

How can values-based, data-driven decisions help leaders?

Let’s start with data. In today’s world, data follows us everywhere. And if a company knows how to tap into it, it can give an organization precise, objective insights into how the business is doing. A company can use data to draw accurate conclusions about nearly every facet of its organizational life, including sales, content marketing and employee wellness.

Today’s leaders can make data a part of their workplace so that it almost becomes a colleague or mentor. Build systems and practices that allow data to flow into an organization’s tasks, whether via live dashboards or regular reports, and leaders will be able to draw conclusions in real time that can assist them in making data-driven decisions for business.

Where do values come in? A fast-paced world requires quick thinking and a high level of adaptation. Data can help leaders do this, but their forward motion will be purposeless without values.

A company with a clear sense of its values moves forward with purpose, making decisions that will benefit its future customers and employees.  

Thinking about these two approaches at once is crucial. Leaders should never rely solely on data; if they do that, they risk becoming dependent on an algorithm and losing the sense of context around their decisions. It’s also important to acknowledge that we often lack sufficient data. Assuming that data alone will yield a decision is a misguided approach to addressing an issue. The objective insights that data can provide should be paired with a more subjective sense of an organization and its values. Olin teaches that experience, expertise and intuition can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of leaders’ use of data.

When paired together, data analysis and values-based decision-making can allow leaders to move forward confidently and without hesitation, knowing they are representing their business thoroughly.

How does the Olin MBA support data-driven and values-based decision-making?

By following leadership trends in business, one will notice that data and values are foundational pieces of a leader’s education. An MBA program, whether online or in-person or part-time or full-time, must support future leaders as they grow and test out these foundations.

What does an MBA experience need to be to support future leaders?


At Olin, we know that the future of problem-solving in business is data-driven and values-based. Equipping students with these skills is part of how to prepare students for the future of business leadership. Today’s decision-making cannot be rigid; it must respond to a shifting present and future. Tomorrow’s leaders are those who can test out their visions under different hypothetical conditions and use evidence to determine the most likely path to success.


Olin’s MBA curricula and resources focus on experiential learning. Students gain real-world experience of business challenges alongside their education in the classroom. There are many types of experiential learning available at Olin, including challenging coursework, cohort experiences and projects with global companies. Our Strategic and Crisis Communication class puts students on their feet and teaches them to speak their values. Our Center for Analytics and Business Insights sets students up with companies and challenges them to practice real-world problem-solving in business.


One of our principles at the Olin MBA program and others is that learning is lifelong. The leaders of the future don’t just need a foundational knowledge of business topics; they don’t just need fluency in data analysis. Leaders need an adaptable, continuous ability to learn from the world around them. That’s why the MBA program at Olin gives students ways to continue learning, whether by working with the alum network, mentoring others or accessing digital resources.

The future of business might be shifting, but here’s what we know: Sustainable leadership will require a balance of data-driven and values-based decision-making. Students must experience these two foundational elements of tomorrow’s business management in real time and firsthand.

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

WashU Olin Business School

Firmly established at the Gateway to the West, Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis stands as the gateway to something far grander in scale. The education we deliver prepares our students to thoughtfully make difficult decisions—the kind that can change the world.

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