Ethics and Success

There is no guarantee that doing the right thing will lead to personal success. In thirty plus years as an ethics consultant, I have seen ethics undo more than a few brilliant careers. But I have also seen leaders whose ethics helped make them successful. You may think that rising to the top with your ethics intact is a matter of luck. But my observation is that ethical leaders follow a conscious strategy for building success upon their ethics. Here are a few steps to help you align your ethics with your career goals.

Choose who you work for. If your ethics and the ethics of your employer are in significant disagreement, your career success is certain to be limited. Organizations seldom promote individuals who are outside of their cultural boundaries, which include the organization’s ethics. It is not reasonable to expect perfect agreement between your ethics and the ethics of an employer. But a vegan who works for a meat packing company can expect problems. While most of us cannot change jobs at will, you increase your chances of advancement when you are employed by an organization with which you are in ethical agreement.

There are more steps that will be covered in future posts.

The 4th Biggest Ethical Mistake

The fourth biggest ethical mistake made by leaders is confusing legal advice with ethical advice. The job of legal counsel is to tell you the legal consequences of various courses of action – and not whether you should take those actions. Many of the investment activities that led to the 2008 recession were perfectly legal and also perfectly unethical. The training that makes a good lawyer does not make the lawyer an ethics expert.

The 3rd Big Ethical Mistake

The third big ethical mistake that leaders make is allowing managers in an area suspected of wrong-doing to investigate the matter. Leaders believe they should show trust in the their managers and allow them to investigate accusations. But the chances that the manager is conflicted are too great to take this path. By the way, I discuss ways of avoiding these mistakes in my book Make an Ethical Difference.

2nd Ethical Mistake

In my pursuit of the biggest mistakes leaders make, the second biggest mistake is fixing a problem going forward without owning the problem’s history. This would be like GM fixing its ignition problem going forward without owning the problem in cars currently on the road. This never works but it is very tempting to leaders who don’t want a past problem dragging their organization down. But you have to own the organization’s history to be able to move on.

The Biggest Ethical Mistake

I was recently asked to write something on the biggest ethical mistakes made by CEOs. There are a lot to choose from so this took some thinking.

And the winner is: Judging information you receive by the person who delivers it. I know of no ethical fiascoes, including Enron, that did not have clear warning signs. Somehow these signs were ignored – and not without reason. The information that  enables a CEO to prevent an ethical crisis often comes from individuals who are afraid of taking any risks, whine about everything, and have a chip on their shoulder. I have just described one type of whistle blower. Really sharp CEOs ignore the source and act on the information, often at the objection of the top tier of their management. An ethical CEO is always asking, what if this information, although from a questionable source, is true? Would I gamble the future of the company on it not being true?

Healthcare Reform

I am often asked what ethical questions are posed by healthcare reform. Like healthcare reform itself, this is an very complex issue about which confusion abounds. For example, healthcare reform extends healthcare coverage to more individuals. But it does so in part by cutting Medicare. Is this right? Are we financing our social goals on the backs of seniors? Healthcare reform also tries to push the costs of Medicare down through a program called the Medicare Shared Savings Program. I can’t explain the whole thing here but the basic idea is that Medicare rewards you if you drive down the costs for a given patient population while maintaining or improving quality. This sounds like a wonderfully noble idea Read the rest of this entry »

Be a Source of Ethical Influence

Some who have commented on Make An Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action have pointed out that the tools provided for making an ethical difference are also good tools of influence. This makes sense since accomplishing something in ethics often means influencing people. Most discussion of influence are thinly veiled manuals on how to manipulate others. The problem with this is that people recognize that they have been manipulated and limit your future influence. When you influence with ethics, there is no rebound effect. In fact, your ability to influence grows as you learn to influence with ethics. A recent piece in CEO Magazine discusses just this point: http://chiefexecutive.net/4-ways-ceos-successfully-influence-decisions

Ethical Agreement

Make an Ethical Difference has been getting a lot of PR which of course is all to the good except that it makes it hard to keep this page up to date. One of the topics that focuses the book is why people disagree so much about ethics – and whether it matters. People just have a hard time changing their minds when it comes to ethics. An article on this topic appeared at Yahoo News. I was asked to write something on why truth telling matters, especially for CEOs, for CEO magazine. I always appreciate comments on these pieces, none of which is repetitious of the book, at my personal email address councile@aol.com.