“There’s No Such Thing As ‘Business’ Ethics: There is only one rule for making decisions” is a short book by John Maxwell. Its message is, “ethics is never a business issue or a social issue or a political issue. It is always a personal issue.” In other words, you are deluding yourself if you think you can have one standard of conduct for your business life and another for your personal life. Ethics is universal.
Maxwell lays out the three most common paths that lead ordinary people to do dishonest things:
1. We do what’s most convenient, the easy thing rather than the right thing. We are lazy rather than courageous. We tell ourselves it is a small thing, that taking a stand will cost too much and not make a real difference.
2. We do what we must to win. “Few people set out with the desire to be dishonest, but nobody wants to lose.”
3. We rationalize [rational lies] our choices with relativism and attempt to practice “situational ethics.” Maxwell notes the course description for a University of Michigan class in corporate ethics states, “This course is not concerned with the personal moral issues of honesty and truthfulness.”
He also lists five common temptations:
– Pressure: “And with pressure comes the temptation to cut corners or bend the truth. …no one escapes pressure.”
– Pleasure: “For decades, people in America were encouraged by the words ‘If it feels good, do it.’”
– Power: “Unfortunately, for many people, having power is like drinking salt water. The more you drink, the thirstier you get.”
– Pride: “…having an exaggerated sense of self-worth can be highly destructive. Wisdom literature is filled with warnings concerning pride and its negative impact.”
– Priorities: “Any time a person doesn’t know what his priorities are, he can find himself in trouble because he is liable to make poor decisions.”
Maxwell suggests the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Personalizing it by asking, “How would I like to be treated in this situation?” can increase the power of the Golden Rule, help you apply it in the moment of decision.
Building strong character BEFORE you need it is key. Character can be built by:
– Taking responsibility for your actions
– Developing personal discipline
– Knowing your weaknesses and being prepared
– Aligning your priorities with your principles
– Having the courage to admit wrongdoing quickly and ask forgiveness
– Taking extra care with finances to reduce the possibility of financial pressure making you extra vulnerable to temptation
– Putting your family ahead of your career, and
– Valuing people and relationships above material things and status symbols
He advocates developing “golden opportunity by cultivating a revised version of the ‘Midas Touch,’ by taking your focus off yourself and what you can gain, and instead focusing on adding value to others.” This can be done by:
1. Treating people better than they treat you.
2. Walking the second mile, going beyond even the extra mile.
3. Helping those you can’t help you.
4. Doing right when it is easy to do wrong.
5. Following your principles even when it hurts.
Maxwell also touches on the all-too-human tendency to see the faults of others much more clearly than we see our own. Hypocritical though it may be, many people cut ethical corners yet still manage to be very critical of other’s ethics. As always, our challenge is to become the change we seek.
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” — Thomas Paine
“Or how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” — Luke 6:42