On Ethics

Personal values will determine ethical action.  However, the more one desires the benefits  gained from an organization, the more likely one is to also “buy into” the ethics of the organization, even when the ethics are contrary to personal values.  That this occurs with greater intensity as one ascends the corporate ladder should be self-evident.  This fact thereby places even greater obligations for ethical behavior on senior leaders.  Yet this reality is sometimes willingly denied and exceptions made for less ethical behavior “because we are different from our employees.”

The ethical integrity of an organization will be determined by its least ethical leaders.  This falls under the leaking boat principle:  the soundness of a boat is based on how much it leaks; 99% of the hull may be perfectly sound, but that 1% that leaks can sink the entire vessel.

When internal stakeholders view the organization as unethical, the foundations for integrity become tenuous, but those internal problems may be self-corrected.  When external stakeholders view the organization as unethical, the entire survival of the organization becomes questionable, as it may not survive the loss of trust that is essential for positive working relations.

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