Five Essential Questions: Business Ethics

Ethics are the focus of much discussion and media coverage in the post-Enron and WorldCom scandal tainted world of business. Leadership, always an area of study for organizations of all types and sizes, is receiving even more attention as a result of corporate and other forms of corruption (such as the recent events with Tom Delay in Congress and the “K Street” lobbying investigations of Jack Abramoff and others in Washington, DC). But when it comes to ethics-based leadership, while there is a growing volume of literature there are few role models (at least those who are still living and breathing, rather than in the history books and biographies). Given these circumstances, where can one go for “real world” guidance when it comes to ethics-based leadership?

There are several key questions that leaders at all levels and in any type of organization – be it a large or small business, non-profit, government or the professions can ask oneself and others:

– What would my mother say about…(action, decision, behavior…)?

– What if this was my personal bank account (applies both to income and outlays)?

– How would I want to be treated in the same situation (applies to customers, clients, patients and employees)?

– Would I want to see this (action, decision, behavior, conversation, etc.) on the front page of the local (or regional, or national) newspaper?

– If I am making a promise, agreement or “commitment”, am I willing to do everything in my power to keep it (situational honesty is just another name for a lie)?

Simplistic? Maybe. Realistic? Yes. Life changing? Definitely. If leaders of all professions, businesses and organizations asked themselves these questions – and then acted upon them – ethics-based leadership would shift from being an academic theory to a day-to-day reality with remarkable outcomes not only for leaders but also for customers, employees and investors.