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What’s the Right Thing to Do? An Ethics Framework for Leadership

25 Apr. 2018 Posted by aadams

Ryan Atherton, FEI Account Manager

It would be reckless to think laws are created without ethical consideration. However, there are several cases of behaving legally but not ethically and vice versa.

A simplistic example of the former is taking the money from a lost wallet or purse as some form of mental quid pro quo – legal, but certainly not ethical. On the other hand, speeding is ubiquitous with driving – ethical (to a point!), but positively illegal.

We like to think such basic examples are only used to prove a point, but workplaces are muddied with situations that consistently leave professionals with complex decisions to make.

The most common question I’m asked during organizational consultations goes something like:

“Does this protect us?” “Are we covered?” “What’s our liability?”

And so on and so forth. While I discuss the requisite company policies, laws and implications for a range of decisions to be made, my full answer invariably includes:

“What do you believe is the right thing to do?”

Oftentimes the answers to these questions do not align; yet, the law primarily guides decision-making in business, leaving professionals with an inner emotional incongruence. Herein lies the juxtaposition of managing in a strictly legal versus ethical manner. Is it possible for these ideas to synchronize within the workplace?

Everyone (hopefully) wants to self-identify as a law-abiding individual with high ethical standards and strong moral character. How do we accomplish this in the workplace? The easiest solution is for a company to know who it is and what it stands for via development of a strong Statement of Core Values. Shaping your organization’s vision, values and mission early with an ethical mindset can help save time potentially researching pages of legalese.

Keep in mind there is no one-size-fits-all model for leadership, but familiarizing yourself with the Society for Human Resource Management’s Statement of Core Values resource is a great starting point for you to start managing from an ethical standpoint while still following the law.


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