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Got Ethics?

While most leaders aspire to ethical behavior, the perceived need to “Be The Best” makes it difficult to do the right thing at the right time. Yet, the degree of difficulty should not stop each of us from asking, “How can I get myself and my team to become better at taking ethical action in stressful situations?”

We live at a time when unethical people are capable of inflicting substantial damage to our Corporations and Communities. The three factors that contribute to a potential ethical problem include: extremely intelligent people, with poor relationships, and a history of unethical behavior under pressure.

As part of a research project led by the Center for Global Ethics, thousands of students were asked if they would cheat to pass an exam. Two-thirds of high school respondents replied, “yes.” In follow-up research, professionals were asked if they cheated as undergraduates to obtain entry into grad school. The statistics reflecting those responding “yes” were startling: 57% of education students, 63% of law students, 66% of government professionals, 68% of medical students, 71% of engineers, and 76% of business students.

Several speculative scenarios can bring these numbers into alarming light. Imagine seeking treatment in a hospital where 68% of doctors and nurses have admitted to cheating their way into grad school. Or ponder the prospect of driving across a bridge if 71% of the engineers have taken unethical shortcuts to their degree. Each year, thousands of companies will unknowingly hire the best and brightest from those who cheated at something–hardly a formula for success.

Ethics also impacts our young athletes. A national survey by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids confirmed a significant increase in the reported use of synthetic human growth hormone (HGH) among teen athletes. According to the study, sponsored by MetLife Foundation, 11% of teens in grades 9-12 reported “having used” synthetic human growth hormone without a prescription, up dramatically from just 5% in 2012.

Whether it’s on a basketball court or in a board room, leaders at every level need to be better role models for ethical action. As Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

While people typically view ethics as a question of right or wrong/true or false, neither is a valid approach to addressing the issue. Ethics is an obedience to the unenforceable. As ethics drain out of society, laws tend to rush in. While self-regulation signifies ethics, imposed regulation is law.

The Center for Global Ethics discovered there are five core ethical values common to many cultures, regardless of race, age, religious affiliation, gender, or nationality. Positive leaders and teams should aspire to live these values every day:

  • Honest and truthful in all our dealings

  • Responsible and accountable in every transaction

  • Fair and equitable in each relationship

  • Respectful and mindful of the dignity of every individual

  • Compassionate and caring in each situation

What are you doing to engage, influence and encourage the people on your team to apply these ethical values when dealing with the daily pressure to produce results?

Ethical action is also like a moral muscle…the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.

Let’s Get Better. Together! Bill Durkin


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