The Ethical Dilemma
There's No Such Thing As "Business" Ethics
Our disgust is now turning to discussion. People want to know: Why is ethics in such a terrible state? Although there are many possible responses to that question, I believe when people make unethical choices, they do so for one of three reasons:
1. We Do What's Most Convenient
An ethical dilemma can be defined as an undesirable or unpleasant choice relating to a moral principle or practice. What do we do in such situations? Do we do the easy thing or the right thing? For example, what should I do when a clerk gives me too much change? What should I say when a convenient lie can cover a mistake? How far should I go in my promises to win a client?
As human beings, we seem prone to failing personal ethics tests. Why do we do something even when we know it's wrong. Do we cheat because we think we won't get caught? Do we give ourselves permission to cut corners because we rationalize that it's just one time? Is this our way of dealing with pressure?
2. We Do What We Must to Win
I think most people are like me: I hate losing! Businesspeople in particular desire to win through achievement and success. But many think they have to choose between being ethical and winning. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that a group of executives came together recently at a leading company in Atlanta to brainstorm ideas for a three-day national conference to be attended by several thousand sales employees. As the team shared ideas for different sessions, a senior vice president of the corporation enthusiastically suggested, "Why don't we do a piece on ethics?"
It was as if someone had died. The room went silent. An awkward moment later, the discussion continued as if the vice president had never uttered a word. She was so taken aback by everyone's reaction, she simply let the idea drop.
Later that day, she happened to run into the company's CEO. She recounted to him her belief that the subject of ethics should be addressed at the conference. She expected him to agree wholeheartedly . Instead he replied, "I'm sure everyone agrees that's an important issue. But there's a time and a place for everything. The sales meeting is supposed to be upbeat and motivational. And ethics is such a negative subject."
That CEO isn't alone in his opinion of ethics. Many people believe that embracing ethics would limit their options, their opportunities, their very ability to succeed in business. It's the old suspicion that good guys finish last. They agree with Harvard history professor Henry Adams, who stated, "Morality is a private and costly luxury." Ironically, in today's culture of high debt and me-first living, ethics may be the only luxury some people are choosing to live without!
I I believe that I have only two choices: (1) to win by doing whatever it takes, even if it's unethical; or (2) to have ethics and lose--I'm faced with a real moral dilemma. Few people set out with the desire to be dishonest, but nobody wants to lose.
3. We Rationalize Our Choices with Relativism
Many people choose to deal with such no-win situations by deciding what's right in the moment, according to their circumstances. That's an idea that gained legitimacy in the early 1960s when Dr. Joseph Fletcher, dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, published a book called Situation Ethics. In it he said that love was the only viable standard for determining right from wrong. The Executive Leadership Foundation states,
The result is ethical chaos. Everyone has his own standards, which change from situation to situation. And that stance is encouraged. A course entitled "The Ethics of Corporate Management," offered at the University of Michigan, says in its description, "This course is not concerned with the personal moral issues of honesty and truthfulness. It is assumed that the students at this university have already formed their own standards o these issues."
So whatever anyone wants to use as the standard is okay. Making matters worse is people's natural inclination to be easy on themselves, judging themselves according to their good intentions-- while holding others to a higher standard and judging them by their worst actions. Where once our decisions were based on ethics, now ethics are based on our decisions. If it's good for me, then it's good. Where is this trend likely to end?
About the author:
Bestselling author and expert on leadership John C. Maxwell shares the only rule that matters—in business and in life. How does a person judge what is ethical? Sometimes it's clear. In the past year or two, ethical lapses in corporate America have been well documented. But is it always easy to see where the line is in life? What's the standard? And can it work in all situations? John C. Maxwell thinks it can. In There's No Such Thing As Business Ethics, Maxwell shows how people can live with integrity by using the Golden Rule as their standard—regardless of religion, culture, or circumstances. Along the way, he delves into the desires of the human heart, reveals the five most common pitfalls that throw people off the ethical track, and teaches how to develop the Midas touch when it comes to personal integrity.
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