Main Street: Dec. 19, 2018
We are closing in rapidly on the holiday season. First, I would like to wish all our readers a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah and season greetings.
As we celebrate this season, it is incumbent we always act ethically. It is easy to wish everyone a spirited holiday greeting, but more difficult to assist those in need; giving a kind word; checking in with a sick neighbor; or sharing our resources (money, time and care) with those who need it the most.
One of my favorite ethical quotes comes from Potter Stewart, who said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”
Or simply, ethics are doing the right things for the right reasons. Often, from a consequential ethical approach, requires an individual to do a mental calculation of all the harms and benefits of these consequences, stakeholder by stakeholder. Therefore, what is the impact or consequences of your behavior in this dyadic approach?
Another factor driving the ethical behavior component is a theory called Deontological, which is based on an individual’s decision about what is right on broad, abstract universal ethical principles or values such as honesty, promise keeping, fairness, loyalty rights (to safety, privacy, etc.), justice, responsibility, compassion and respect for human beings and property, according to Linda Trevino and Katherine Nelson in their book, Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk About How to Do It Right.
In this hectic and frenetic advertising holiday season of, “You must buy more to show you love others,” and “Show people you care by buying them the very best and latest gadgets, rings, toys,” we face an ethical dilemma: Does purchasing more and the pursuit of materialistic gifts enhance or detract from the real “reason for the season?”
Conversely, I often ponder millions of advertising dollars spent on this last Illinois gubernatorial election, one of the most expensive races in the country with a combined spending of more than $200 million, could have been put to better use? Could that money have served a better purpose?
Maybe those dollars could have been appropriated and served a population in need for homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation centers, food pantries, health-care centers for the uninsured, rather than mindless, inane commercials and propaganda fliers which were quickly disposed of and relegated to the garbage? Points to ponder.
In addition to similar influences of scarce resources being allocated across a broad spectrum of wants, needs and desires, how do we manage our resources in an ethical manner?
Politicians use their resources to influence voters’ minds and votes. Advertisers use heart-felt messaging to influence our decisions to buy their products and show others we truly care. Faith-based institutions and charities implore us to give to those in need, not only in our local communities, but abroad as well.
With that in mind, we must act as ethical stewards of our resources. From this perspective, Charles Warner penned an interesting article in the 2008 Harvard Business Review, “Hippocratic Oath for Managers.” I would like to highlight some of his salient points and comment in parentheses on how to add to your ethical leadership domain.
Service to public and society: (Create and maintain ethical behavior that promotes sustainability and long-term value for society. Doing the right things for the right reasons and promoting your sphere of influence for the betterment of others.)
Balance multiple stakeholders’ interests: (Given competing interests and demands on scarce resources [time, money, emotional commitment] balance the needs with the resources available. Promote and expand your resources for the greater good and watch your sphere of influence geometrically improve.)
Acting with integrity in the enterprise’s interest: (In any organization in which you are affiliated with, put the enterprise’s interests ahead of your personal interests. Act with integrity [consistent behavior] couple with character [what you do when no one is looking] to coalesce and solidify a culture of ethical behavior with all whom you serve.)
Respectful, unbiased decision making: (Make your decisions based on equality and respect for others. Race, gender, religion, politics, sexual orientation, nationality and social status are not reasons to make bias and stereotypical judgments of others. As ethical leaders, we are compelled and propelled to protect the interests of the less powerful who are affected by our decisions.)
Adherence to the law: (Make a commitment to adhere to the spirit and the letter of the law as well as contracts for organizational and personal commitments when making decisions that affect others in the organization.)
Accurate, transparent reporting: (There are no shortcuts in ethics or ethical behavior. Thus, provide and maintain accurate and transparent reporting of resources, so all stakeholders can make informed and unbiased decisions.)
Finally, Trevino and Nelson offer the following suggestions in assisting in our daily ethical decision making:
Is the action legal?
Does it comply with your best understanding of our (organizational) values and principles?
If you do it, will you feel bad?
How will it look in the paper [if your behavior is reported on the front page of the local newspaper?]
If you know it’s wrong, don’t do it, period!
If you are not sure, ask?
Keep asking until you get an answer.
Finally, as described by the Rotary International Four-Way Test: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better relationships? And, will it be beneficial to all concerned?
If indeed we can follow these guidelines for ethical behavior, we may find that the “reason for the season” applies all year long and what a happy world that would be!