Have you ever thought about how ethical you are on a daily basis? This question isn’t meant to make you feel bad about your actions, but to think about the reality of cause and effect. Especially in business, ethics are overlooked because peace is not sexy in a world of profit and material gain. However, there is a new generation of leaders emerging that view business profit as both a means for providing for ourselves and cultivating better connections with others through meaningful work. For each of us, personally, ethics provide a means for living a life of better connections with others, more authentic & original progress, and better health. As a society, ethics provide a means for interpersonal peace, freedom, and collective progress.
How can you be a better leader and contribute to a world where ethics exists everywhere? Busy leaders often overlook opportunities to act ethically. We usually think about ethics as big stuff like stealing something, invading someone’s privacy, or threatening someone. However, ethics come into play in every action and every decision we make, every day. What has been largely overlooked by business leaders are the subtle interpersonal and personal actions that eventually lead to larger consequences for individuals and organizations. The scenarios below are probably situations you have experienced.
- An ignored e-mail makes a team member feel he or she did something wrong.
- Constructive feedback is taken as harsh criticism.
- Pressure to complete a project on time causes sleepless nights.
- A job pays the bills but drains energy and enthusiasm, without a sign for where else to go.
- A misunderstanding between two people turns into a weeks-long passive aggressive fight.
Though we may not experience physical harm or theft on a daily basis at work, these scenarios above are also acts of unethical behavior. They inhibit the peace and progress of the individuals and the collective team. These are just a few examples of many, many unethical situations that are common from the ground to the top level of teams and organizations. To some people, these may seem like small actions that are normal in a busy business environment. They are often overlooked or ignored as insignificant. However, people are sensitive to these small gestures. Over time, they lead to larger negative consequences for the individual and collective that leaders often don’t foresee. When someone experiences small acts of unethical treatment, they lose trust and motivation. A collection of seemingly small unethical experiences result in (or are expressed through) frustration and depression.
Overtime, a collection of small unethical acts and experiences result in (or are expressed through) frustration and depression.
Leaders often accept small acts of unethical behavior as norms of a busy workplace, where speed and profit are prioritized. Leaders often lose sight of the impact small actions have on someone’s mental health, focus, and confidence. Leader’s eyes are often drawn to the numbers, the collective progress only, or other aspects of their own life. For teams and organizations, individuals keep collective progress moving forward. Small acts of unethical behavior that cause frustration and depression for individuals consequently result in poor attendance, poor productivity, and ultimately the disbanding of teams and the organization.
Leaders often lose sight of the impact small actions have on someone’s mental health, focus, and confidence.
Unethical treatment doesn’t just affect people while in the workplace. This mindset of disconnection, defeat, or unworthiness is taken home. We can even go as far as to connect a few small acts of unethical treatment at work to interpersonal violence, theft, or suicide. Frustration and depression eventually must be expressed and larger consequences occur. As a society, we often accept theft, interpersonal violence, and even suicide as sad things that “just happen” and are “so sad”. There are always random acts of nature that we can’t control, however, I know from experience that small acts of unethical behavior lead to the larger human-centered and business-centered consequences over time. Everything is connected.
Small acts of unethical behavior that cause frustration and depression for individuals consequently result in poor attendance, poor productivity, and ultimately the disbanding of teams and the organization.
How do we proceed? What is the solution? The tricky thing about ethics is that all aspects of ethical behavior, especially in business, cannot be explicitly written in the law or rule book. This is why they are forgotten and glazed over until a large consequence occurs; like a team member leaves the organization or an interpersonal fight breaks out. Small acts of ethical behavior are not easily traceable or easy to catch proactively if it’s not part of your default mode of action. It’s part of human responsibility to hold yourself accountable for ethical behavior. We are each responsible for our own behavior and should consider the implications of our actions before deciding to or to not act.
You may at this point be asking: If the solution is to act more ethically and pay more attention to ethical behavior, what exactly is ethical behavior in a given situation? How can I check myself before I wreck myself (and others)? Glad you asked! If you are so motivated to practice ethical behavior every day, first start by asking yourself the key question for navigating a situation ethically: What will promote the peace and progress of the individual and the collective? To dive deeper into this question and what it means in practice, learn ten simple ethical principles that will help you ethically navigate situations like the ones above. These ten principles for ethics were designed for business leaders seeking to navigate day-to-day situations more ethically.
If you are so motivated to practice ethical behavior every day, start by asking yourself the key question for navigating a situation ethically: What will promote the peace and progress of the individual and the collective?
Secondly, remember that acting ethically often requires slowing down, especially when our default mode is built in a business environment. To really understand the dimensions of impact in a situation, it takes thought. The good news is that as you practice ethics, decisions become easier. Over time, acting ethically becomes your norm instead of acting in default mode (which may be to unintentionally cause some of the subtle unethical situations above). Keep in mind the impact your actions have on others as well as yourself. Are you acting in default mode or acting ethically? Each small ethical decision you make contributes to the peace and progress of the world and yourself. Lead by example and others will follow.
Each small ethical decision you make contributes to the peace and progress of the world and yourself. Lead by example and others will follow.
Finally, build a shared language, understanding, and appreciation of ethics into your own psyche and, if you have one, into your team or organization. When ethics are not built into the collective foundation of a team, organization, or society, cultures are built on foundations of sand, like skyscrapers that crumble in the face of a storm. People in power can lose power so quickly. People that are dependant on the power suffer and often don’t survive. Products are developed that serve ego, with money as the objective, but humanity as the victim. Small acts of unethical behavior continue to build and eventually break down great teams and keep individuals from reaching their potential.
When ethics are not built into the collective foundation of a team, organization, or society, cultures are built on foundations of sand, like skyscrapers that crumble in the face of a storm.
Keep ethics in mind every day. Build ethics into your default mode of action to navigate decisions and respond to situations in ways that result is positive consequences. Ask yourself the key question. Learn the principles and put them into practice. Lead by example.
Build ethics into your default mode of action to navigate decisions and respond to situations in ways that result in positive consequences. Build a team culture of peace and progress!
What’s Next? How can I start practicing ethics in action, in my work and life?
In my new book, Awake Ethics, I present a system and common language of ethics in practice. Learn the ten principles and begin practicing ethics toward yourself and others. Awake Ethics contains practical yet soulful guidance & exercises for putting the ten ethical principles into practice in your everyday work and life.