Use This “Ethics Check” to Ensure You Make Ethical Decisions

Unethical leaders always seem to be in the news these days, which raises the question:  How can you be sure you are leading in an ethical way?

I was fortunate enough to be able to work with Norman Vincent Peale, the great author of The Power of Positive Thinking, on a book called The Power of Ethical Management.  We had a wonderful “ethics check” in that book that I would love to share with you. It will help you make sure you’re doing the right thing.

There are three parts to the ethics check. The first part is this question:  Is it legal?  And by this we mean not only within the legal system, but also within organizational policies. A lot of people will stop there, and I think that’s where they get into trouble—they think it’s fine to do something as long as it’s not illegal. But the two follow-up questions in our ethics check are essential. The second question is: Is it fair? Is it fair to everyone involved if we do this?  The final part, if you make it through the first two, is a self-esteem question:  If you do this, how will it make you feel about yourself?  Would you be proud to have it published in the local newspaper?  You might also think about whether you would like your friends to know. How about your kids or grandkids?

We use this ethics check in our company all the time. For example, a number of years ago, a person in our Accounting department came to my wife Margie and said, “We have a potential ethical problem with Ken’s travel. He’s going to five different cities this week, and the contract with each client is that they pay round-trip airfare from San Diego and back. How should I bill it?”  So Margie said, “Let’s think. Is it legal to charge each of them for a round trip even if you are going from one city to another and not going back to San Diego until the end? Sure, it’s legal, because they signed the contract.  Is it fair to all involved?  Of course not! That wouldn’t be right. And if we do it, how would it make us feel about ourselves?” Margie continued, “I wouldn’t want it published in the local newspaper that the Blanchard companies made a lot of money on overcharging their clients for travel expenses!”

What a wonderful way to consider whether something is the right thing to do. Is it legal? Is it fair to all involved? And if you do it, how will it make you feel about yourself?  Use these three little questions frequently, and they will help you stay on the right track.