The question is not if you will ever face an ethical dilemma, the question is when. Ethical dilemmas come in all shapes and sizes and you will inevitably be faced with a situation where you find yourself at a crossroads. Do you choose to do something that is wrong in order to benefit yourself, even if no one will ever know, or do you choose to do the right thing?
“There is no right way to do a wrong thing.”
Last week I wrote about the five P’s of ethical power that Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale discuss in their book The Power of Ethical Management. In that classic best-seller they also offer an “ethics check,” three questions you should ask yourself when faced with an ethical choice point. Asking yourself these three questions could save you from making a decision that ends your career.
Is it legal? The first of the three ethics check questions goes right to the core of the matter. Is what you are going to do legal? Does it violate civil law, corporate policy, or your own code of ethics? If the answer is No then STOP! There’s no need to even ask the next two questions. To take it a step further, if choosing to proceed could even give the appearance of illegal activity, you should avoid that course of action.
Is it fair and balanced? Assuming you answer Yes to the legality of the decision, the next question to ask yourself is whether or not your action will be fair and balanced to the parties involved. Will your decision or action result in one party being taken advantage of by another to the point of their detriment? Is there a clear winner and loser involved? The parties can’t always win equally in every situation, but you should strive to avoid great imbalances in the fairness of your actions. Ideally you want to strive for decisions that promote long-term fairness and respect in relationships.
How will it make you feel about yourself? If your actions were published on the home page of CNN.com, how would you feel? Would you feel proud of the decision you made or cringe in embarrassment that your actions were on display for the whole world to see? Besides your behavior being publicized, how would your decision align with your own sense of right and wrong? Most of us have a pretty good sense of when we’re on shaky ethical ground, yet we often try to rationalize our behavior in order to feel good about ourselves. I love the quote from John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. He said, “There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.” If your decision is legal and balanced, yet something about it just doesn’t sit well with your conscience, then it’s probably not the right decision to make.
I’ve asked hundreds of people this question: “What is the most important factor in building trust?” Overwhelmingly the response is “integrity.” Integrity is a leader’s most valuable asset and using the ethics check questions can help you keep it intact and avoid what could be a career ending decision.
If life was so easy, since I got into management back in the eighties, this is how a lot of companies do business. I have actually been fired for doing the right thing and not the company thing. I actually had to report my own company to the authorities, because they refused to deal with a life safety issue. Their response, “you should have said something”, I did, 5 times and had the emails to prove it.
Once companies gave up ethics for the almighty dollar, market share and stock dividends. The weak followed. There are still tons of us out there that do the right things, but in this case, a few bad apples does spoil the bushel or brings an entire country crashing to it’s knees.
Have a great day,
Thanks for sharing your story Kevin. You’ve experienced the fallout for doing the right thing and that is to be admired.
Randy – Another great post, and one that hits close to home. Just over a year ago, I found myself confronted with what I considered a ‘non-choice’ of action, though I knew the stakes were exceptionally high — a situation that would in fact play out in a very public way, given my role at the time and the stakeholders involved. As I summoned the courage to ‘do the right thing’, I remember hearing the Rotary motto echoing in my head – Is it the truth? (yes); Is it fair to all concerned? (yes); Will it build goodwill and better friendships? (unknown at the time, though it would later prove to be an action that deepened trust and respect w/ others); Is it beneficial to all concerned? (not immediately, though ultimately the situation resolved itself and everyone grew and learned from the experience). Being self-aware and solidly aligned with my own values PRIOR to being confronted with the situation, proved vital in holding on to my integrity.
Sharon – Such a powerful example! Knowing what to do in advance is the key if you aren’t clear on how you want to and should respond when in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to make the wrong choice.
I use that old John Adair chestnut of Task – Team – Individual for new managers, “what happens if you neglect one or more of these…?” etc. With experienced managers it’s interesting to use the same thing but ask “what happens if we ignore our [ / the company’s] values in each of these areas?” It allows people to see, as Randy describes, where perhaps choices are being made already that chip away at one’s integrity. When working in companies, of course, it helps if that company has a stated set of values in the first place.
Thanks for adding your insight Ivor.
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