Do Ethics Matter?

I don’t like starting posts with a disclaimer but for this post I think I have to. So here is the disclaimer: I am not as ethical as I think I am. Just for the record it’s highly likely that you aren’t as ethical as you think you are either. 

My personal battle to always be ethical is never-ending but at least I try…. or at least I try to convince myself that I try. I also sometimes try to convince myself that something that I think might not be ethical actually is. That way I don’t have to feel bad when I do it. More people than not are just like me in that regard.

Despite all that “baggage” I’m going to now write about the importance of ethics. 

There are really three levels of ethics to consider. The first is known as “pre conventional.” At this level a person acts almost solely in their own best interests. This causes them to follow rules only to avoid punishment or to receive rewards. At this level a person will willingly break moral or legal laws if they feel there is no chance of being caught.

The second level of ethics is the “conventional” level. At this level a person conforms to the expectations of others in society. They are very likely to try hard to uphold all morale and legal laws. 

The highest level of ethics is call the “principled” level. At this level a person lives by an internal set of morals, values and ethics. They uphold these morales, values and ethics regardless of any consequences or majority opinion. 

Researchers say that about 75% of people operate at the conventional level and that fewer than 20% of people live at the principled level. The other 5% appear to be running for President of the United States…oh geez, did I really just write that. 😉

The 75% of people at the conventional level clearly know right from wrong. They struggle with ethics because instead of finding ways to always do the right thing they invest too much of their time trying to justify why the wrong thing they want to do is actually the right thing to do. 

They convince themselves “it’s okay” and then they do it. Then they work their butts off trying to make sure nobody finds out what they did. Here’s a clue for those of us who one day hope to fully live at the principled level: if you wouldn’t want anyone to know that you did “it” then you also know that “it” isn’t ethical. 

If you invest even one moment trying to hide your actions from view then your actions were almost certainly unethical. 

Many of the people at the conventional level slip into the pre conventional level because they are willing, at times anyway, to trade their integrity and ethics for the appearance of success. 

That is a very very poor trade. 

We make it because in the moment that we make the trade it seems “worth it,” but in the moments after the trade the person we really are, the one who lives at the conventional level, feels almost immediate regret. That trade, it turns out, is NEVER really worth it.

Staying ethical can be a challenge for a whole lot of people but it’s vital that we never stop trying. When we slip down a notch we must regroup and try harder next time. We must try harder because ethics really do matter. They matter because without them society becomes unruly, unmanageable, and unsustainable.

We cannot let that happen so our goal should always be the principled level of ethics. We should never compromise on our ethics because a successful, happy life is not built on a compromising our principles, it is built on living them. 

Live your principles, no matter the cost and you’ll live the life you deserve.


Understanding Success – Part Eight

Successful people get it. They simply understand some things that less successful people seem to have a hard time grasping. The things they understand are the “it’s” of success. 

This is the eighth and final post on Understanding Success. This is not a complete look at all the “it’s” required to succeed, there are in fact many more and the series could actually go on indefinitely. The goal of this series has not been to get you thinking about success, it was written to help you do the things that successful people do and less successful people don’t.

If you’ve followed this series you will have undoubtedly noticed that one thing I’ve stayed away from is defining “success.” 

I’ve avoided it because truly successful people understand this absolutely undeniable fact: success is personal. 

If I lined up 100 people in a room I’d likely hear 100 different definitions of success. There would be some commonality in the definitions but there would also be widely varied opinions on what success actually is. 

So I’d say this about YOUR success…. the heck with what other people think about YOUR success. If you want to do something with your life then do it. If one of the commonalities of success is high self-esteem, and I think it is, then you should know that no one, absolutely no one, can make you feel inferior without your consent. 

It makes no difference what you do or how much you get paid to do it. What you do and how much you get paid to do it is only about making a living, successful people know it takes more than a job and money to make a life. 

Your success, and what you do to make yourself a success in completely your responsibility. Don’t let other people’s opinions cloud your personal definition of success.

You’re a success if you say you’re a success!

Now the caveat, it comes in three parts.

There is a baseline for success, this baseline must be in place before you should even consider calling yourself a success. The baseline is this: if your success is personal then so is your lack of success. 

You must accept responsibility, full responsibility, for your shortcomings before you accept any credit for your success. If you’ve earned your success then you’ve earned any lack of success too.

Here’s is the second part of the caveat. If your smart enough to use some sort of device to find this post then you’re smart enough to understand that the basic concept of success doesn’t mean sitting around on the couch all day, living off of family, friends, or “the system” while wasting your God-Given talents and gifts. 

To be considered a success you must accomplish something more than simply existing. What that something is can only be determined by you but never fool yourself into thinking that nothing is something. To succeed you must do something tangible.

The final part of the caveat is this: you must achieve success legally and ethically. It is possible to have the appearance of success through illegal and unethical practices but at least according to my personal definition of success that’s not real success….and oh by the way, if you think something might be unethical then it most likely is.

As Stephen Covey said, begin with the end in mind. Focus on what you what to be remembered for, that’s most likely where your efforts toward success should be directed.



When Does Integrity Really Matter?

This integrity stuff is pretty complicated. We can’t have enough of it. We need integrity for work, we need some more at home, maybe a little with friends, and we sure can’t forget about the people at church, we sure want our church friends to know we have integrity. 

There are apparently different “types” of integrity too. There is work or professional integrity. There is personal integrity and the integrity we display with family and close friends. Some people have that “special” integrity they use when they really want to impress people with their honesty.

Integrity gets complicated when we have to determine which “kind” to use and when to use it. There is really no point in using the “special” integrity with the people closest to us because they will see through it in about 10 seconds. 

Sometimes we forget we’re at work and our personal integrity slips out. That’s not good because often times our personal integrity is not up to the standards of our professional integrity. When that happens the people we work with could start to question whether we have integrity at all. 

And they should!

You see, integrity really isn’t complicated at all. You either have integrity all the time or you have no integrity. Integrity and ethics go hand in hand. When you sacrifice your ethics for any reason your integrity goes right out the window with it.

Integrity isn’t complicated because you don’t need several “kinds” of integrity. If fact, you can’t have more than one if you wanted to because there is only one true “kind” of integrity. It’s the kind where you do the right thing solely because it’s the right thing to do.

Most people know the right thing to do. They have a hard time admitting that because often times doing the right thing means not doing the thing they really want to do. 

If you struggle with what’s “right” here are two ideas:

Get yourself a mentor. Find someone who cares about you, who is someone you trust and admire and hopefully someone who has achieved some level of success. A good mentor helps you look at things from more directions than you can see them alone. They can provide you with clarity that’s hard to achieve on your own. They will help you discover “right.”  By the way, your current level of success makes no difference, you will be more successful if you have a mentor.

Know and understand your core values and principles. Who are you really? Do you even know? It’s amazing to me how little time most people spend understanding themselves and determining the principles they will fight for. It’s your core values and principles that help you determine right from wrong. Those core values help you to know where your lines are that you won’t cross. Your core values and principles guide you to sound decisions and help you to eliminate regret from your life.

Integrity becomes easier to find, nurture and grow when you know your core values. Discover who you are today and every one of tomorrow’s decisions will be easier. 

So when does integrity really matter?  It matters every minute of everyday. It matters at work, at home, with friends and with family. Most of all it matters with you. Everybody else may be fooled by the appearance of your integrity from time to time but you never will.

You know, in your heart of hearts you know, if you have integrity or not. 

Is This Ethical?

leadershipHave you ever asked yourself that question? If you’re in business or in any kind of leadership role the answer most certainly should be “yes.”

That simple question is the beginning of a series of check and balances that help us maintain our integrity and remain above reproach.

It could also be the beginning of a very slippery slope which leads you to ethical decay, a loss of credibility and loss of your ability to lead.

It all depends on how you answer it. Let’s be clear about this, it doesn’t depend on the answer, it depends on how you answer it.

A “yes” or “no” stated with conviction solidly answers the question and it’s likely that ends your little self-debate right then and there. Your conviction comes from a set of closely held principles that are firm and not open for discussion or debate. (These principles determine who you really are, at your core, when no one is looking)

The problems start when you answer the question with a hem and a haw. Throw in a couple of “well, maybe if” and you are well on your way to making a compromised decision that very well could lead to an ethical lapse.

Here’s the deal; if you think something might be unethical it almost certainly is unethical.  Your core principles know it, they are telling you and for some reason (likely personal or financial benefit) you’re trying to convince yourself that your principles are wrong. They are not wrong.

So maybe you tell yourself “just this once” or “everybody else is doing it” or some other self justifying silly thing. What your principles will tell you however is that there is no such thing as “just this once” because you either have ethics all the time, every time, or you have no ethics at all.

You know that’s true and so does everyone else.

Here’s what you may not realize: once your ethics can be called into question, every single thing you say and do can be called into question. Your motives for doing everything you do can be called into question.  People lose trust in those whose motives are murky.

Without trust relationships wither. Without a relationship there is no opportunity for leadership.

Is this ethical? That’s a great question, make sure you know where the answer came from.