Ethics Isn’t “Out There”: It’s Us And Our Choices

May 21, 2014 by Linda Fisher Thornton

Much attention is paid to the tactics of ethics – the ethics codes, compliance plans and such. We can easily begin to think that ethics is something we can see and touch. Something finite. Something written in stone. Something outside of ourselves.

But that’s not where ethics lives.

Our ethics doesn’t live in the codes and manuals. Ethics is in the big and small things we do each day. It’s in the time we take to teach employees about ethics and values, and the care we take to model ethical behavior so that everyone can see what it looks like in action.

Ethics is in the decisions we make. It’s in the way we resolve the tension between gaining personal benefit and creating value for others.

Ethics is not just “out there” and it’s not just what’s written down. Ethical guidelines are there to help us, but they do not become our ethics unless we choose to follow them every day.

Ethics is personal. It’s about us and our choices.

For leaders, ethics is about personal choices that set the tone for their organizations. It’s about the daily struggle to figure out “the right thing to do” in difficult situations. It’s about a deeply personal commitment to lead in ways that demonstrate:

  • the strength of our moral compass
  • the breadth of our concern and care for others
  • our understanding of how to bring out the best in those we lead
  • our awareness of responsibilities and consequences
  • our ability to think long term and across boundaries
  • our desire to do more and to be more than the minimum standards require.

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