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What to Do When the Wrong Answer Seems Right

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Like most people, I consider myself an ethical person. My personal ethics were shaped primarily by my culture, religion, parents and general life experiences. I have a clear understanding of the differences between right and wrong.

My desire to do the right thing influences my actions in both my personal and professional life. That influence leads some people to believe strong personal ethics negate the need for business ethics.

But strong personal ethics aren’t enough. As Ethics Professor and CPT Board Member, Linda Ferrell, Ph.D., stated “although a personal moral compass is certainly important, it is not sufficient to prevent ethical misconduct in the complex world of business.

Imagine discussing an international business deal, when a coworker encourages your company to give a large monetary gift to the president of another organization to secure their business. Your personal ethics may lead you to state your position against bribery and corruption.

Its Not Personal Its Business PhotoBut what if your coworker is from that country and tells everyone that this type of gift is customary – and not corrupt – in their culture? In fact, he explains, it would be an insult if your company did not send a monetary gift.

Your boss thanks your coworker for clarifying the cultural differences, then explains that your company will be forced to lay off hundreds of workers if the deal falls through.

How would you respond? Are your personal ethics strong enough to compete with your coworker’s conflicting personal ethics? Is it right for you to make a decision that can cause so many innocent people to get fired?

When making the right decision harms the people you care about and making the wrong decision protects them, it becomes harder to know whether or not you are doing the right thing.

A strong business ethics philosophy can help guide a company’s decision-making process. Because people often have different personal ethics and values, business ethics standards are needed in order to clarify an organization’s definition of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Good, well-intentioned people can often disagree on the best course of action, but clear business ethics guidelines can help resolve those conflicts.

Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.

– Ryan W. Hirsch
Program Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust