You’ve seen the spectacular collapses of both for-profit and nonprofit organizations when there are ethical breaches. Just as important are the thousands of decisions with ethical dimensions that leaders must make every day. How can you be sure that your staff, and your volunteers are acting with the highest of standards?
Leading by example with a strong set of distinct ethical values will prevent problems associated with ethics. As I have grown, I have learned many lessons related to what is ethically acceptable.
Some were easier than others to learn. Through experience we learn to value certain things higher than others. We begin to understand the importance and reasoning behind our moral compass. I have developed an ethical compass that involves two primary principles. The first element is somewhat of a “Golden Rule”.
A universal moral law principle based on the reasoning “Always do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” With that being said, in my ethical compass, I do not believe this can be applied to every situation.
For example, a different standard of what is ethical or polite may vary in a situation involving another culture. In this case, I believe a passive approach is best in order for both sides to achieve a general understanding of the others expectations.
The second primary element that makes up my moral compass is certainty. Once you have established you’re ethical values, it is important to never compromise them for unjustly reasons. Of course, when dealing with international affairs certain customs or ideas may need to be shifted to adjust to the corresponding culture. But even here I believe you must stick to your core values that essentially make up who you are.
We have discussed ethics in the business world, and even examined real life examples. It is no coincidence that the most ethical companies are also the most successful. Although simply a strong code of ethics does not equal business success, the two have a strong correlation. In the end it is not about what you can get away with without being reprimanded. I believe Potter Stewart (Associate Justice of the Supreme Court) articulated this very well. He said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”