Today, I spoke with Bruce Weinstein, who has successfully branded himself as “The Ethics Guy.” He has his own column for BusinessWeek.com and has written many books on this topics. Bruce reminds us how important it is to stay ethical in all that we do, online and offline. I think this is a really important topic, that isn’t discussed much on the web (copyright laws are mentioned everywhere, but not ethics), yet it’s crucial in business. Wouldn’t you want to deal with someone who has strong ethics, knowing the difference between right and wrong?
What is an ethical dilemma that occurs throughout people’s lives, and how should people respond to it?
Observing wrongdoing is one of the most common—and challenging—ethical problems we encounter throughout our lives. Whether the issue is seeing a fellow classmate cheating on a test when we’re in the fifth grade or learning that a colleague is cheating a client when we’re in the work force, we’re often faced with an ethical question simply by witnessing someone else doing something or she shouldn’t be doing.
Although it is understandable why one wouldn’t want to get involved (after all, who likes confrontations?), minding one’s own business in such situations is almost always the wrong thing to do. When we are in a position to prevent harm to others, to correct an injustice, or to be a force for good, and doing so won’t pose a serious threat to life or limb, we ought to take action. What that action is depends, of course, on the facts of the situation.
Is it smart to brand yourself as ethical? Why or why not?
Being ethical has professional and personal benefits in the long run. But the reason to do the right thing is simply because it is the right thing to do.
What are your famous five deceptively simple principles of ethics for careers?
- Do No Harm
- Make Things Better
- Respect Others
- Be Fair
- Be Loving
These principles apply not just to our professional lives but in everything we do and everyone with whom we interact: friends, family, and strangers, too. Also, I wish I could take pride in ownership, but these principles are common to all cultures and religious traditions. See, for example, Jeffrey Moses, “Oneness: Great Principles Shared by All Religions” (New York: Ballantine Books, 2002). I adapted these principles from a classic text in bioethics by Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress, “Principles of Biomedical Ethics,” Sixth Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)
Can you name a few industry leaders (or standout examples) that have had career pitfalls due to lack of ethics behind their work? We all know what happened with Enron.
The dust hasn’t settled on the economic crisis, but there are some names emerging already that suggest a few CEO’s and economic “experts” have had serious lapses of ethical judgment. The recent testimony from Alan Greenspan, in which the former chair of the Federal Reserve admitted that he “made a mistake” hardly meets the minimal standards for a meaningful apology that I describe in a column I wrote for BusinessWeek.com.
Ethics shouldn’t be seen as something apart from the daily life of a business; it is, or should be, integrated into everything a business does. This includes, but is not limited to, how it advertises itself; how it deals with the competition; how it treats its employees (including wages, benefits, and perhaps most importantly, acknowledging and encouraging jobs well done); and how it relates to the community of which it is a part. All of this must begin with the CEO himself or herself.
This should be a person who is committed to doing the right thing all the time and who expects that everyone associated with the company will have a similar commitment. An ethical CEO isn’t a guarantee that everyone else in the firm will be so oriented, but an unethical CEO gives few people an incentive to take the high road and may even encourage just the opposite.
Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D., is the professional ethicist known as The Ethics Guy. He writes the ethics column for BusinessWeek.com and has appeared as an ethics analyst on NBC’s Today Show, ABC TV’s Good Morning America, and many other programs. His column, Ask the Ethics Guy, is distributed internationally by the McClatchy-Tribune Information Service. Among those who have hired him to give keynote addresses and workshops are the National Football League, and over 300 other leading businesses, schools, and non-profit organizations.
His latest book, Life Principles: Feeling Good by Doing Good shows why all of us benefit professionally and personally when we live according to ethical principles. His next book, Is It Still Cheating if I don’t Get Caught?, debuts next March (2009).