On a daily basis, and with increasing frequency, we witness those in business commit ethically questionable offenses. As the stories inevitably unfold, these poor judgment calls were not “honest mistakes” but rather thought-out and intentional business decisions. How and why does this happen? Is it possible that some leaders have gaps between their personal values and how they conduct themselves in a business context?
In your personal life, you have a code of ethics or moral compass whether it’s motivated by ideals or it’s a powerful mantra you’ve developed over time, it’s essentially how you discern right from wrong and the best practices to act upon. Why not let those values drive your business?
A good proxy to think about your decision making in business is to ask yourself these 3 questions — What would my mother say, what would my daughter say, and of course, would I like to see this on the front page of the newspaper? These questions tend to clear away any lingering ambiguities.
Here are 3 tips you can use to leverage your personal values.
There is no substitute for honesty. If you make a mistake, and we all do, admit it and learn from it. Too often, employees are afraid to tell the truth because they feel that their boss will scream at them, make them feel incompetent or potentially even fire them. If you as a leader are not 100 percent honest with your employees, you have no reason to expect that they will reciprocate. Big problems emanate from smaller mistakes, which because they were not addressed, can result in a big loss.
A good example of honesty is dealing with poor business performance. Everyone in the company is aware that the business is not doing well, and they appreciate it much more when the boss gets folks together at a town hall meeting to explain the situation and discuss what he is doing and what they can be doing to dig their way out of the ditch.
If you expect your employees to be committed to your company and its mission, you need to be fully engaged yourself.
A great example of a committed leader is a CEO I met named Charles, who runs a popular online business based in the Southwest. During last year’s holiday season, the team was overwhelmed with sales and were not sure they could fulfill all of their orders for Christmas. Charles pulled the entire team together and announced he was not going to go home until every last order was shipped. Hearing that, his entire team told him, if you’re in, we’re in with you. That two-way commitment allowed them to find new ways to speed up the process and they were able to get home with plenty of time to enjoy the holidays with their families. Hearing this story, I patted Charles on the back and said, “that’s how you motivate and keep employees.”
The key question to be asked is, “What is the right thing to do?” Not necessarily the easiest, nor the most profitable, nor the fastest, nor several other factors. What is right for the three constituencies that you need to serve — employees, customers, and shareholders. Decisions often affect each of these groups differently, and too often decisions are made with a profit orientation, ostensibly favoring the shareholder interests. But sometimes, a short term gain leads to longer term customer dissatisfaction, ultimately hurting the company’s performance.
I have always and continually believe that if you allow your moral compass to align with customers, you rarely lose in the long run.
Ethics is an area not discussed within leadership teams as much as marketing, finance, technology, and innovation, partly due to many thinking of it as somewhat amorphous. Ethics are real, and good leaders who have strong ethics generally run great companies. Those without good ethics, typically wind up working somewhere else.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.