moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity.
“medical ethics also enter into the question”
synonyms: moral code, morals, morality, moral stand, moral principles, moral values, rights and wrongs, principles, ideals, creed, credo, ethos, rules of conduct, standards (of behaviour), virtues, dictates of conscience
“the ethics of journalism”
the branch of knowledge that deals with moral principles.
“neither metaphysics nor ethics is the home of religion”
It seems that never a day passes without some mention of ethics in the daily newspapers.
Just in this last week, I have seen it enter into the conversation around the US Presidential elections, in Australian politics and also as a result of some internal behaviour being conducted by specific individuals at a major global financial institution.
Now one could take a very pessimistic view and wonder where all this is taking us.
For me however, yes the true optimist, I believe a focus on the morale aspects of daily life whether that be in government or business is a good thing.
After all, I once heard it said we live in societies, not economies and how we behave and treat others accordingly, is essential for the well-being of our societies
But what are ethics and what is behaving in an ethical way?
Well I will not even attempt to answer that question as there are certainly many more people much more credentialed than me to do so.
However, one definition from Wikipedia suggests ethics as:
Ethics is the branch of philosophy that examines right and wrong moral behaviour, moral concepts (such as justice, virtue, duty) and moral language
So if we generally accept that this is the definition of ethics, I believe here lies the problem we have today and why we are constantly seeing matters which are about a lack of ethics reported in the daily news cycles.
How often have we heard the line “I did not break any laws”, or “I was within the company policy”?
You see I strongly believe ethics and an understanding of ethical principles, are at the core of societies before written and legislated laws, or in organisations, policies.
I also believe it is essential that organisations (government, non-profit, profit, small, large) need to have ethical principles and guidelines imbedded in their respective cultures.
I also believe that they need to go beyond the documents they are written on and lead to an ongoing conversation that takes place to all constituents as to why an ethical foundation is even more important than it has ever been.
I am early in my personal journey in studying ethics.
However, I have published for my own business a document which I share with my constituents (clients, employees, partners) of what I believe and how I expect myself and business to behave, in regards to ethics.
Since doing this, I have observed that the depth of conversation that is now taking place, is rich and is leading to strong relationships.
I have also seen other businesses also adopt a similar process in terms of ethical principles of policies.
Of course at the end of the day it is about behaviours. As I said, it needs to go beyond a document – but this is a start.
The first step.
As Wikipedia reports, the good, Socrates says, is like the sun. The sun gives light and life to the earth, the good gives knowledge and virtue to the intelligible world. It is the cause of goodness in people and actions, and it also is the cause of existence and knowledge. The pursuit of and love of the good itself (rather than any particular good thing) Socrates thought was the chief aim of education and (especially) of philosophy.
“Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you” – H Jackson Brown Jr
I don’t know if you remember people asking you when you were a child, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.
What did you say?
…a famous sports person?
…a park ranger?
What about now, did you make it? I mean are you what you wanted to be as a child?
Does it matter at all now?
Well I am sure there are those who were very clear on what they wanted to be when they grew up and are doing that precisely. There is no doubt many others who for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad, have drifted away from that child’s vision.
I know I am certainly in that later group, in fact I did not really have much of a vision of who I wanted to “be” when I was a child.
However, I now realise and yes hindsight is very valuable, that the question asked of me as a child, still resonates – but it is a slightly different version.
You see the question we should really be asking ourselves is this…
“Who do you want to become when you grow up?”
In other words, what type of person, what do you believe in, who do you look up to and who looks up to you?
My view is that we only really grow up, once we know the answers to those questions.
Don’t get me wrong that I mean growing up is losing our “childlike” curiosity, amazement and creativity either… definitely not.
What I am referring to is it’s about a sense of knowing who we are and that others know who we are as well.
Marketers call this “positioning”, I just call it becoming clear and living that on a daily basis through our thoughts and actions – with no exceptions.
Another way to describe what I mean in one word is…
the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
“internal racial unrest threatened the integrity of the federation”
Does this describe who you have become today?
Or is it possible that you are still on this same journey as myself in “becoming”?
Regardless, I have come to realise it is who we become as human beings, as people, as adults, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, politicians, teachers, volunteers, cleaners that is most important. Who we continue to look up to for inspiration and example and who now looks up to us.
When we “become”, integrity, in my opinion, should be the common thread that ties us together.
“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world” Albert Camus
I have spoken on numerous occasions of my views that we are living in extraordinary times.
Deep down I am an optimist and I am overwhelmingly positive for our future.
However, that does not mean I am blind to the many challenges that we face today.
Whether it be the in-balance between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, access to adequate health care or just access to education as the big ticket items, it is also how we treat our environment and of course treat each other, which are areas that we need to collectively address.
Yet when I reflect on all these challenges, while also reflecting upon what I have seen over my professional career and my role in business, I keep coming back to the same theme…
You see I actually believe there is something perhaps even bigger than those challenges I have mentioned. I believe if we can somehow place greater focus on, it is possible that these other challenges will get the attention they well deserve.
What I am talking about here is that the greatest challenge we are all facing today is to address the absence of an ethical dimension to our lives.
Now I am not saying everyone is un-ethical – what I am trying to convey is that on a daily basis we are making decisions or choices that have an ethical consideration that need to be taken into account.
Have you ever read a news article or watched news broadcasts on TV and a business leader or politician etc. was caught out for some action, yet their defence was that they were not breaking any laws? Maybe they were not even breaking any company policies, or possibly even codes of conduct, but somehow when those behaviours or actions become public knowledge, we all felt disgust or disdain towards that particular individual?
Many years ago while working for the global technology firm EDS (later acquired by HP), I had the opportunity to facilitate a leadership program in which ethics was a key component. Much of the focus was around your responsibilities as a leader in terms of ethical decision making.
One exercise I recall was asking the class if it was OK to receive gifts from associates such as tickets to the football etc. How would you answer that question?
Peter Singer is a moral philosopher and currently the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He specialises in applied ethics and approaches ethical issues from a secular, utilitarian perspective. In an interview several years back, he made the point that he was not necessarily prescribing an answer to people, only that they think more broadly of the consequences of their decisions.
For example, he challenged viewers that if there were starving children living next door to them, would it be more likely that they would do something to help alleviate that suffering and if that is the case, then what are they doing to help alleviate the suffering for the people they cannot see. Why are they possibly making a distinction when the need is the same?
This is of course is really challenging and at times confronting thinking, but this is really the point I am making – we need to think more broadly of the consequences of our decisions.
Coming back to my experience with EDS and the leadership program, there was a very elegant framework to assist employees navigate the minefield of all the possible situations they could be placed in, many of which may not have clear company polices, codes of conduct or even actual laws. It is what they called “modelling ethical behaviour” and I have reproduced my version of it here…
Guidelines for Ethical Decisions
Ask yourself these questions as a guide for making ethical decisions:
Is it legal?
Is it a violation of the company Code of Business Conduct?
How will it make you feel about yourself?
How will others who are affected react?
How would you feel if the world knew about it?
Does the behaviour make sense?
Is the outcome appropriately fair to everyone involved?
Will your leader and your leader’s leader approve?
I have not found any decision that I have been faced with, or even in general, where these guidelines cannot support. I have also now embraced these guidelines across my companies and while they do not necessarily represent a corporate social responsibility policy, they are nevertheless a start. We also use them as a checklist as well as discussion points for our team meetings that include both suppliers and customers.
Perhaps if you have not done so already, consider implementing your own Guidelines for Ethical Decisions and who knows, they may even contribute towards addressing what I believe is the greatest challenge we are all facing today.
Who do you like working with – come on, be honest?
You see, I think this question is just as important as figuring out your market, the problems and challenges to be solved and how you can package up products and solutions that will do this. I say this, because I believe at the end of the day it is all about relationships.
Relationships with your customers, relationships with your employees, relationships with your suppliers and relationships with yourself.
Of course I have had demanding customers, but I still enjoyed being around them, there was a lot to learn and I think they also learned something from me. However, I have also been around customers that despite their business, frankly I did not enjoy being with. I am not sure if it was lack of chemistry, or simply their views were in contradiction to mine. Either way, I just did not get along with them.
I remember some time back, I was meeting with a client who was a senior executive at a global bank. He was demanding, but not with the intent to establish a win win relationship. It was only several months later that I discovered through the local press, this same executive, had been caught acting corruptly by receiving bribes from other suppliers.
Today, I go out of my way to share with my customers and future ones, about what I stand for, what I believe in and how I think I can help them. Sometimes this transparency is over indulgent, but it is also appreciated.
I also want to get to know who they are, what drives them, their aspirations from our partnership. By doing this we are much more better positioned to build a great relationship that is mutually beneficial, or realise early that this will not be worthwhile endeavour for either or both of us.
Now this can be a challenge when you are starting a business and are in the startup phase. After all, I can hear you say what about cash flow? Of course you need to be commercial, but I also believe you need to be authentic from day onset as well – one of integrity, as this is the greatest investment in your business and it will live beyond you.
When you raise your personal standards way higher than anyone would expect of you, a strange thing starts to happen. You actually start to attract the type of people who have similar values which is also reflected in their business and relationships.
As a young boy I heard the phrase “good things happen to good people”- well I think it is true!