Enduring Principals – Your Personal Code of Conduct 4

What does it say about the World we live in when we question the honesty and integrity of the people in leadership positions – both in government and the clergy? Public trust in our lawyers, teachers, and financial institutions are at an all time low.

Worth Remembering …

“Leaders walk their talk; in true leaders there is no gap between the theories they espouse and their practice” – Warren Bennis

What is ethical or unethical behaviour? Ethics is best described as a set of moral principles or values that defines what is considered right or wrong behaviour for a person or a group. Some people suggest that there is a difference between business ethics and personal ethics. But, to my way of thinking – I believe you’re either ethical or you’re not. There is only one kind of ethics. You either believe in being honest – to act with integrity – to be guided by a strong sense of values and fair play – or not. How can you behave one way at work and then behave a different way at home and still be true to  yourself – still be true to your own personal code of conduct – your own set of enduring principles?

The first course I ever taught at Algonquin College’s School of Business was a “Business Ethics” course developed by one of my hero’s Professor Ron Knowles. Professor Knowles developed the course for first year business students in our SME program (Small, Medium, Enterprises). One of the neat things about that course was I got to work with first year business students to help them develop their own personal code of conduct – their own ethical decision making model that they could use to help them make the right decision when faced with an ethical dilemma. (An ethical dilemma is when you’re confronted with a situation where there is no clear right or wrong answer. No clear right or wrong way to behave.)

Worth Remembering …

“Be more concerned with your character then your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is what others think you are.” – Dale Carnegie

What do you hold to be true? What are your enduring principles? What are you not willing to compromise – no matter the situation – no matter the personal price you’ll have to pay?What series of questions do you ask yourself to solve your ethical dilemmas? If you where to sit down and script your personal code of conduct what kinds of things would you include? Do you believe in honestly? Acting with integrity? Do you believe in treating people fairly, consistently and with respect?

I’ve been put into positions in the past where I had to compromise my own set of values. I’ve done some things that in hindsight I should have handled differently because I ended up not being true to myself. What I did was not illegal but, it still bothers me to this day. And because I’m still bothered by it – I know it was the wrong thing to do. I should have acted differently no matter the cost. When we behave in ways that conflict with our own judgment of what is right, we lose face in ourselves. You may not always make the right decision – regardless of what ethical decision-making model you use. But you will make a decision that you can live with no matter the outcome because you where true to yourself.

Worth Remembering …

“The depths and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves.” – Leon Trotsky

The Josephson Institute of Ethics, a non-profit training and consulting organization based in Los Angeles California advocates principled decision-making based on six common values they call “The Six Pillars of Character”. The Institute contends that these six pillars are the basis of ethically defensible decisions and the foundation of well-lived lives.

  1. Trustworthiness: Honesty, integrity, reliability and loyalty
  2. Respect: Civility, courtesy, tolerance, acceptance
  3. Responsibility: Accountability, pursuit of excellence, self-restraint
  4. Fairness: Process, impartiality, equity
  5. Caring: Empathy, compassion, a sense of duty
  6. Good Citizenship: A sense of fair play, giving back, giving a hand up.

What we say to ourselves and our actions must be congruent. The words and our behaviour must match. There are people whom we trust and those we do not. And if we ask ourselves the reason why – most likely it’s because we trust congruency and are suspicious of incongruence. Results of a Society for Human Resources Management survey found that only 27% of the employees feel that their organizations leadership was ethical. At the end of the day – you have to be true to yourself. The bottom line is – If you have to ask yourself if you acted ethically or not? – you already know the answer. 


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