Everyone in business will eventually face a real crisis of conscience at some point or points in his or her career. Before you face that critical choice, I believe most people would say it is easy to think that they will act ethically, no matter what the personal cost. However, what will you really do when you are faced with the personal cost of losing the job you love (or desperately need) and placing your family’s welfare and your own self worth in jeopardy?
How confident are you that you will act ethically? How valuable are your ethics to you? Does your salary buy blind loyalty? What is your price to keep quiet or look the other way? These are all questions you must ask yourself when faced with an ethical dilemma in your business.
Is your personal respect and integrity negotiable? It is probably safe to say that all or certainly most of us have encountered situations where there was a bending of the rules; the special person, client or coworker who gets special consideration; the dishonest deal; the telling of a blatant untruth; and so on. Do you have an ethical compass in good working order to guide you in resolving these ethical dilemmas?
There are numerous examples I could give to illustrate an ethical dilemma. I chose one that occurred in my local community where a magazine publisher skipped town without publishing a promised issue of her magazine, but had her staff out selling advertisement with the staff’s knowledge that the issue they were selling advertising for would not be published. What would you do if, as an employee, you were asked to sell advertising for a publication that you knew would never be published? Would you still sell the advertising? If yes, that says something about the value of ethics to you. What would you do if you, as someone else inside or outside the organization, knew that someone was doing just that? If you do not speak up and tell someone, this says something about your price to keep quiet.
What will you do the next time you are faced with an ethical dilemma? Perhaps the following selected quotations about ethics in business and society can provide some guidance or at least some food for thought.
+ “We will not lie, steal or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does.” (from the U.S. Air Force Academy code of conduct)
+ Honor is better than honors.” (President Abraham Lincoln)
+ “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” (Max Lucado)
+ “It has become dramatically clear that the foundation of corporate integrity is personal integrity.” (DiPiazza, Sam, CEO of PriceWaterhouseCoopers)
+ “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
+ “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
+ “To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.” (Confucius)
+ If ethics are poor at the top, that behavior is copied down through the organization.” (Robert Noyce, inventor of the silicon chip)
In my opinion, American businesses and business people are at a crossroads in their governance and risk management processes. I also believe that the best of the best, the truly world class companies of the future will have business ethics and personal integrity as their top goal. I believe this because if ethics and integrity are second, then ethics and integrity will be subject to compromise and sacrifice where and when a choice must be made. My challenge to every business person, and especially business owners and leaders, is to ask yourself – How valuable are your ethics or what is your price to compromise your ethics?