Avoid Fatal Ethics Mistakes #5

This is last post in the Avoid Fatal Ethics Mistakes series. I appreciate all of the positive comments especially on Linked In. Always feel free to comment here as well.

If you are not sure of an action, try explaining it to someone whose judgment you trust. This is not because you will benefit from what the other person has to say – although you probably will. But you will benefit primarily from your own attempt to explain the action. When you can not give an explanation you consider plausible, you are risking a fatal ethics mistake.

Ethical Mistakes and Your Career

You may enjoy a piece that appeared in the Globe and Mail on how ethical mistakes may impact your career. Read it at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/leadership-lab/be-careful-an-ethical-mistake-can-be-fatal-to-your-career/article22067000/

Avoid Fatal Ethics Mistakes #4

Another tip on avoiding fatal ethics mistakes:

Don’t use pressure to justify an unethical action. Many fatal ethics mistakes are made under pressure to just make some decision, any decision. Rather than think things through, you take the path closest at hand even if it is ethically questionable. The rationalization is that anyone under the same pressure might make the same choice. Be on guard when you feel pressure to just make a decision. Hindsight will judge the action without considering the pressure.

Ethics and the Line of Command

You may enjoy this article by Harvey Schacter of the Globe & Mail on ethics and the line of command: http://tinyurl.com/o39df7v

Avoid Fatal Ethics Mistakes #3

Another tip on avoiding fatal ethics mistakes:

Respect your innate sense of right and wrong. When we do something wrong, we often ignore an uneasiness about the action that we may not be able to explain. In a world of ethical relativism, it is unfashionable to claim to have an inner sense of right and wrong. And yet we do. In almost every fatal ethics mistake I have observed, the individual making the mistake sensed that the action was wrong beforehand.

In my book Make an Ethical Difference I explain what this innate sense of right and wrong is and when it should be trusted.

Avoid Fatal Ethics Mistakes #2

Another tip on avoiding fatal ethics mistakes:

Act on the principle that nothing you do is private. Most people who make fatal ethics mistakes gamble that their action will never be discovered. They are trying to fly under the radar. But we live in a world in which everything we do is tracked, recorded and potentially accessible. Even if it was once reasonable to assume you might fly under the radar, there is no space under the radar today.

Avoid Fatal Ethics Mistakes #1

In my previous post titled “Fatal Ethics Mistakes,” I discussed several fatal ethics mistakes. The point of this is to find ways to avoid fatal ethics mistakes. Over the next few posts, I will provide some practical steps you can talk to avoid making such mistakes. It helps to read “Fatal Ethics Mistakes” before reading these posts. So here are some tips:

Don’t justify what you do by what others would do in the same situation. I am sure the sales person who stole the lead justified his action by thinking that his colleague would do the same thing given the chance – and that may be true. But when you are caught doing something unethical, it quickly becomes clear that what others would do is no excuse. You own your own actions.


Fatal Ethics Mistakes

It is often far harder to recover from an ethics mistake than an ordinary mistake. While an ordinary mistake may reveal a lack of knowledge or attention, an ethical mistake colors perception of everything a person does. When caught in an ethical mistake, admitting to it often does not settle the matter. Doubt remains about the character of the person who made the mistake.

Suppose you steal a sales lead from a co-worker by intercepting a phone call from a customer that was intended for the co-worker – “She’s not available but, no worries, I can help you with that…. ” You take over the call, steal the customer and get paid incentive for doing so. And then you are caught. Not only will your co-worker never trust you again; she will put out the word that you prey on your colleagues. You made a fatal ethics mistake.

Or suppose you are working on a new drug being tested in clinical trials. The company is gambling a lot on this drug and you are proud of your role in its development. After the closing date for all trials to be reported, a late report arrives indicating problems with the drug. It is the only negative report and you are entitled to ignore it because it is late. You bury the late study. But when the drug is released, there are serious side effects just as predicted by the late study. You made a fatal ethics mistake.

Hindsight is 20/20 and you may conclude that you would never make these mistakes. And yet in my daily work as a consultant, I see many fatal ethics mistakes made by ordinary people. While they almost always regret these mistakes, they have often injured their careers irreparably. In ethics, it is often one strike and you are out.

Fatal ethics mistakes are almost entirely avoidable if you take certain precautions when facing difficult decisions. In a series of posts, I will provide tips on avoiding ethical mistakes based on my experience as an ethics consultant.