A few years ago, I had a friend give me his definition of ethics. Ethics, he said, is what we do when no one’s watching. Apparently the teaching of ethics has been lost or skewed over the last generation or two, if recent news stories are any indication. Are these stories an indication that ethics may soon be extinct?
It seems to me that we’re at a crossroads in this country but many organizations and institutions are also in the same position. As leaders in our communities and organizations it’s essential that we hold not only ourselves and our staffs to a high ethical standard, but we must also enforce a true zero tolerance for unethical behavior.
There can never be any question that a person who behaves unethically will suffer significant consequences, regardless of that person’s position within the organization. That includes us as leaders and role models. Leaders who take a “do as I say, not as I do” approach are not folks we want to emulate. They’re the wrong kind of role models and we need to make that very clear. Doing the right thing, the ethical thing, should never be something we have to stop and think about. It should be the first thing that pops into our head when confronted by an issue.
Ethical behavior shouldn’t be defined by whichever political party that person belongs to, either. Judging from recent disclosures, neither major political party has cornered the market on ethics. It’s up to all of us to behave in an ethical manner with each and every person we meet, regardless of race, color, gender, or whatever. It’s also up to us to hold each other to the highest ethical standard. Anything less will simply continue the bad behavior.