- Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma?
- How do you determine the best way to handle them?
I don’t hear the word ethics that often these days. I am sure most of you are aware of the concept, but it might not be top of mind in your daily practice or when making organizational decisions. The Oxford Dictionary refers to ethics “as well-founded standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness and specific virtues.” That definition is straightforward — or is it?
When it comes to justice and mercy which is correct? Some might say it depends on the circumstances and the person(s) involved. If a family member, close friend, or colleague did something wrong, would you be inclined to tell the truth even if the person who perpetrated the misdeed considered you disloyal for doing so? You’d have to determine what you valued more: family/friends/co-workers or truth, an ethical dilemma. If you were a CEO of a company, maximizing profit is a good thing, unless it depleted natural resources faster than they could be replenished. Choosing short-term profits over sustainability is an ethical dilemma. No organization wants to kill the goose that lays golden eggs. Yet those are ethical decisions that have to be made.
If only facts were considered ethical decisions are not that difficult. However, when feelings, peer pressure, fear, and/or greed are added to the mix, decisions become more complex. If a family member, friend, or colleague did something wrong or illegal they should be held accountable. I don’t believe the industry should mortgage the future of the planet. Our children and grandchildren will live with the consequences long after we are gone. I would certainly hate to be put in a situation where I had to choose.
The good news is there are ways to limit that possibility. On a personal level, I had a friend who would tell me some of the shady things he was planning to do. I told him up front, if you do that, I’m going to tell on you. I think that stopped him from acting out of his character. On an organizational level, mission and value statements coupled with training go a long way to keep leaders and their teams from being put in awkward situations. Involving stakeholders (not just stockholders), institutionalizing checks and balances, as well as providing operational, and financial transparency will keep you and your organization off of the proverbial horns of a dilemma.
This is ethical decision-making made easy.