Leaders: Faced with an ethical dilemma?

ethics picture Potter StewartHow do you lead when you are faced with a decision where the option that works in favor of the bottom line is not the most ethical?  Here are three thoughts that will lead you to the right decision:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, former said, “Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”  A man who invested twenty-three years of his life deciding cases on the foundation of law, had strong opinions on doing the right thing not just the lawful thing. 

Never decide what you should do based on what you can do – it’s not the same.  Your decisions should always be based on what is right for all involved.  This is not to say that everyone will like your decision.  But if you can say you were honest and forthright in your dealings and provided opportunity for everyone to succeed, than you did what you should.

You’re not just in this for the money – it’s about the people.  Singularly focusing on maximizing short term profits is not the sole intent of business.  Are you providing a balanced life for your employees?  Are you giving back to the community in which you conduct business?  Are you’re shareholders proud to be associated with your company? You could even ask if people are seen wearing t-shirts with your company logo embroidered on it – now that says something.  What is the total impact of your company’s existence?

 “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.”­ – Henry Ford

 Short term gain achieved with less than ethical behavior will lead to long term failure.  Never underestimate the memory of people who were impacted by unethical decisions – either benefiting or losing in the end.  No matter the outcome, you will have lost the trust and confidence of everyone involved.  If you made an unethical choice in this area, what’s to stop you from making an unethical choice somewhere else?

 “If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.” – Abraham Lincoln

So, how do you lead when you are faced with a decision where the option that works in favor of the bottom line is not the most ethical? You make the ethical decision – end of story.

2 Responses to Leaders: Faced with an ethical dilemma?
  1. Joy

    What an impactful post. I love this topic and absolutely agree with the message. I can still remember some of the decisions that previous leaders made that I considered to be unethical, as well as the ones that made tough decisions, but put integrity over what was easy. Making the right decision is not always easy, and there are times when others do not realize the choices that you were faced with. Over time, others will begin to realize when you always take the high road, and their loyalty will follow.

    • Denis G. McLaughlin

      Joy, I like how you summed this up. Ethical behavior brings loyalty.

      Thanks for your comment.