What we tolerate, we cannot change — having multiple sets of ethics only delays the inevitable.
A well-known leadership expert/speaker/author, John C. Maxwell, was asked by a colleague what his thoughts were on business ethics. Without hesitation, Mr. Maxwell said, “There is no such thing as business ethics!” (Before being dismissive, realize Mr. Maxwell has sold over 13 million books worldwide and his organizations have trained 2 million leaders worldwide).
Given Mr. Maxwell is considered a well learned man and speaker in ethics, faith, philosophy, and psychology, his answer caught his colleague off-guard. In truth, his colleague — as well as many of us upon hearing this story — was expecting an entirely different answer.
When asked to explain his reasoning, the simplicity of John’s wisdom became apparent. Ethics is the result of planned and conditioned behavior and thoughts — if we need to keep remembering what set of behaviors and thoughts we should be displaying, which set of ethics to use for our family, our friends, our place of business, in the process of negotiations, then we are not being honest with ourselves. It breaks the base principle of ethics — Be true to yourself…
I am not going to discuss what is good and bad ethics — that is far beyond the limitations of a blog posting as well as completely out of the scope of this blog. But during a conversation of right and wrong, good and bad, should I ask the person, “Just what are you pretending not to know?”, and I get a blank stare, then I know they have lowered their ethics way too low.
There are some universal ethics that are prevalent in every society — whether it be a small isolate tribe in the Amazons or the crowded streets of New York City, London or New Delhi. You should never steal, never lie and always be cordial.
But I am going to discuss the issues resulting from having more than one set of ethics….
Many governments suffer from corruption due to various sets of ethics and even the total lack of ethics. The USA is NOT exempt from this situation. Nothing can destroy the fiber or moral of a country, a business, a relationship, a family faster than finding out you’ve been lied to or the victim of extortion by someone with the ethics of a paper bag. Forgiveness may come swiftly but they will not forget.
Many businessmen, like CEO Jon huntsman, discover they have been involved in a kickback scheme with a foreign government. Most would continue, justifying it as the cost of doing business. For Jon, he recognized his integrity was at stake and could never be corrected if he continued with the kickbacks. He notified his business partners, who were natives of the country, that all deals were being pulled and business in that country would cease immediately. He left that country and never returned. If you are not familiar with Jon Huntsman, it would do your soul some good to read his book, now in the 2nd edition, “Winners Never Cheat”.
The same mindset applies to business that court new business, new customers, new employees. And employees courting new employers… If something does not measure up to your ethics, either challenge them or go someplace else where they are equal to your ethics But don’t be a hypocrite about it either — you are only setting yourself up to be totally unhappy with yourself at a later date.
Everything we do, everyone we meet or have any form of conversation of relationship will call upon our ethics at one, several or many levels. We are also creatures of comfort and what we become comfortable doing in one area of our life, we will inevitably incorporate into another area of life. Those that have mastered the art of separating their feelings from their actions have only stock-piled their feelings and emotions. It is very common to see such a person invalidate everything around them in order to validate their own self-worth, a self-worth which has basically become as valuable as junk bonds.
Birds of the same feather will flock together… If you are unhappy with your station in life, are you blaming your circumstances? Does not the history of any country, of any great challenge prove that it is the person that is bigger than the circumstance?
The same mindset applies to projects and project management — what you do, who you are is very evident, not when everything is going smoothly but when there are problems and delays. At all times, let your yes be yes and your no be no. If you waiver on the value of your word, then everything about you waivers, your value included.
Even great men have made mistakes – and it is not the mistakes that made them great, but what they did to own and be responsible for their word with their actions in their public life and in their private life.
They had emotions and feelings about what they did, the same emotions and feelings we all have. They just decided their ethics were more valuable than their circumstances… That the circumstances will change but their ethics should remain intact… We can never change what we tolerate, not matter how much we realize what is wrong and needs to be changed… Acceptance of what we are tolerating allows it to live, deciding to no longer accept what we are tolerating will cause change, a new birth – and birth is always accompanied by pain… Some values re worth preserving, others need to be regained – and still others need to be let go.
Being true to yourself first will bring about one set of ethics you can live with – not to mention those you come into contact with…
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