Have you ever had a waitperson give you more money in change than what was expected? What did you do?
Have you ever had someone at work ask you to do something that wasn’t quite right or proper? How did you respond?
Have you ever been pressured to provide an embellished report that ignored the more realistic facts only for the purpose of influencing someone else’s decision-making? What choice did you make?
Have you ever found someone’s wallet at a time when you were short on cash and there was no one around to see you? What did you do?
How we respond and the choices we make in these and other related situations defines our character and is based on our understanding of ethical behavior. After all, ethics comes down to the choices we make. The consequences of those choices, positive and negative, can have both immediate and long-term impact.
How Do Your Choices Affect an Organization?
The news is filled with stories of bad ethical choices made by people representing their companies and government agencies. Indeed, organizations rarely fail due to bad products and services. Rather, organizations more frequently fail due to poor ethical choices.
Yet, organizations cannot behave unethically; only the people within those organizations can. While we tend to focus on top management — because that’s what makes the story interesting — what’s typically missing in these stories are the day-to-day ethical choices that employees at all levels of the organization make.
The choices we make, no matter where we sit at the organizational table or how significant the degree of these choices, all have consequences. Seemingly small, relatively benign choices can have a profound strategic impact.
The choice you make when handed the incorrect (and favorable to you) change back at the restaurant could influence how you respond to the next ethical decision that comes your way. Hedging on an expense report, playing a little loose with sick leave, or perhaps even how you present your department’s forecast for the next quarter can all have consequences for yourself and others.
The Three Essential Values of Ethics
For me, ethics is grounded in my personal life code and is centered around three essential values, or what I call the T.R.I. value-model: Trust, Respect, and Integrity. These values define our character, and while ethics essentially is a choice, it’s the values that drive the choices we make. Our personal — and sometimes organizational — values provide us with a decision-making framework by which we make choices.
What is the Role of Trust with Ethical Choices?
Trust is making a conscious effort to be approachable, acknowledging, considerate, accepting, and respectful toward others. We trust when we engage in open and honest communication. We trust when we demonstrate compassion and understanding.
If we choose properly, we build trust with those around us. Repetition of proper choices reinforces our image and the integrity that we are what we appear to be and therefore tends to make us more trustworthy. Our trust in others and they toward us helps us make the sometimes more difficult choices.
What is the Role of Respect with Ethical Choices?
Respect is the basis of ethical relationships or more specifically mutual respect. We give away respect to earn respect (not the other way around). We give respect when we truly listen to others and promote their interests ahead of our own. We demonstrate respect when we give credit where credit is due and when we examine problems and issues from the perspective of others.
If we choose properly, we are respecting others and acknowledging that others can be — both directly and indirectly — affected by our choices. If we want others to treat us with respect and act ethically, we must first treat others with respect and behave ethically toward them.
What is the Role of Integrity with Ethical Choices?
Integrity is having the courage necessary to support your personal values and those of your organization. Integrity is about exemplifying your values, treating others fairly and consistently, choosing the harder right over the easier wrong, and doing the right things. Integrity is fulfilling our obligations and staying faithful and steadfast to our values.
We set the example through the choices we make. Integrity is walking our talk and serving as a role model for ethical behavior.
Why Should You Follow the T.R.I. Value Model?
Using this T.R.I. value model is a simple way to keep us grounded and headed in the right direction. Of course, the examples provided above are not complicated situations, and life can certainly deal out some tough choices. But, by living each day with the ideal that we are making choices based on our life code and underlying values, will provide us with the confidence that we can better handle the tougher problems when they arise.
One of my mentors once said, “When you stand on the ethical high ground, it may be lonely, but it’s a wonderful view.”
Doing the right things and making good ethical choices regardless of your position or status is what helps make you a leader of character. Leaders of character demonstrate their values through the choices they make. Doing the right thing and practicing ethical decision-making will lead us to achieving greater potential in our work and in our lives, while standing on the ethical high ground.
Written by Dr. Olin O. Oedekoven, President/CEO, Peregrine Global Services