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Leadership Thought #321 – There Is Such a Thing as Right and Wrong

March 20, 2012

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There is still such a thing as right and wrong.  I appreciate the fact that there are many “grey” areas in life.  Not everything is black and white.  Sometimes there are mitigating circumstances and even good reasons why people act the way they do.  Not everything always fits into a neat little box of appropriate behavior. Some things are usually unacceptable, despite the circumstances.  There is a reason all religions are typically based on a foundation of common morality and expected ethical behavior.  Whether the leaders of these religions live up to their own principles is another issue altogether.

I often tell my kids that just because you “CAN” do something doesn’t mean you “SHOULD.”  This advice is just as applicable to leaders of all types of organizations.  Here are a few basic rules of engagement that every leader should consider:

  • All people should be treated with dignity and respect.
  • You shouldn’t take advantage of other people’s personal vulnerabilities.  Manipulation is a slippery ethical slope.
  • It is not okay to steal and unfairly take what does not belong to you.
  • Cheating is never a virtue, even if you win.
  • Honesty shouldn’t be optional.  Dishonesty only ever breeds further dishonesty.
  • Your products/services should be safe to use.
  • You have an obligation to provide a safe and secure work environment for your employees.
  • You shouldn’t use your position of authority to frighten or push people into situations they find morally questionable.
  • Once someone takes you into their personal confidence, you should respect this fact and be worthy of their trust, not use it against them.
  • Professional and personal commitments mean something. When you commit to another party, you should do your best to honor the agreement.
  • Two wrongs will never make a right.  Never act out of spite.

We live in a society today where there are a lot of “broken” people and organizations.  The evidence is everywhere and borne out by sociological statistics and anecdotal experience.  Something just isn’t right (and most of us know it).  We often rationalize our behavior through the lens of personal psychology and situational ethics.  Spin it however you want, but actions will always have consequences, and wrong actions eventually lead to adverse outcomes.  A win-lose mindset is rarely advisable in business or your personal life.   There is such a thing as right and wrong.