Golden Rule: The North Star for Ethics

Golden Rule: The North Star for Ethics

Enron, Tyco and WorldCom are all examples of formerly highly successful companies whose customers, employees and shareholders paid a high or an ultimate price for the unethical behavior of their leaders. But what are ethics? What is ethical behavior? Simply, ethics are the principles or rules relating to human conduct. There are no business ethics. There are no personal ethics. There are only ethics. Ethics are ethics. If you want to be an ethical person in life, you must live by only one standard.

The one standard to govern ethical decision making is the Golden Rule (GR). It says, treat other people how you would want to be treated in the same or similar circumstance. The GR is the north star when it comes to ethical navigation. A version of the GR exists in every culture in the world – from Buddhism to Christianity to Judaism, etc. The ability to be ethical requires a standard and the will to follow it. Making ethical choices requires first, the ability to discern between right and wrong and second, the commitment to do what is right.

Why do people act unethically? First, they do what is most convenient to them. They make decisions by what is right in the moment. Second, they do what they must to win. Being ethical can limit opportunities. Third, they rationalize their choices with relativism. Their standards change from situation to situation. While people want integrity from others, they do not always act with it. While people judge their own behavior based on their
intentions, they judge the behavior of other people based on their actions.

In 1776, three million Americans produced several outstanding leaders. These leaders included Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, etc. Ninety percent of their education was ethical, moral and religious in nature. By the 1950s, the percentage of same was too small to measure. A strong ethical foundation empowers people to make sound ethical decisions. You can build an ethical foundation by doing what you want from other people. What you want is for them to treat you how they would want to be treated by you.

Because of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom and others, there is an increasing need for ethical dealing in business. However, an ethical foundation cannot be built at the organizational level. It must be built at the personal level. Because employees face continuous pressure to performance, often at the expense of doing the right things, the GR must be constantly emphasized by leaders. Unethical success does not last. Over the short-term, something may seem like a setback from being ethical, but over the long-term, it will always pay off.

All contents copyright © 2010, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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