The Ethics of Profit, the Profit of Ethics
Amid an ethics crisis, we can’t fake credibility. Trust is now a function of ethical behavior, not stated intention. To be believable is now a matter of substance, not image. Once you’ve baked this attitude into your organization’s DNA, you’ll find that responding to customer needs, outpacing competitors, and introducing groundbreaking innovation becomes an organic part of how you do business.
Executives are required to be whole persons and create whole companies. Excesses in one area—such as ruthless acknowledgement of facts and numbers exclusively—and neglect in another—such as minimizing the emotional catastrophes that accompany downsizing, mergers, and acquisitions—predict ruin. Being razor sharp strategically—as was Enron—but lacking the common courage to put wild risks into cool perspective, cascaded a company from the crowning jewel of opulence to the dark abyss of bankruptcy. Refusing to be whole is the recipe for meltdown.
Incomplete human beings become defective managers. To survive today’s ethics breakdown requires executives to mobilize their full potential.
Answers lie in courageous decisions—to be authentically open-minded, to make self-transcending commitments, and to be responsible to help co-create a communal culture. That is ethics!
You increase real profits with true ethics through attitudes and actions.
If a tree is dying, don’t just prune it but examine the soil. And if a business is failing, examine the leadership attitudes for lack of excellence and greatness. Authentic leaders send messages to their people that transform the culture. Leaders help awaken these attitudes in their people. All attitudes are needed. All are ethical values. One alone will not do. Attitudes precede the techniques. How-tos without right attitudes are empty gestures.
Principle #1 for Ethical Profits: Freedom is the Foundation
The foundation of leadership is knowing that we are born with free will, we have free will, and we can never relinquish our free will. Until our dying day will we have free will. Free will is a clear experience. Free will makes ethics possible. Free will is the source of our power and the origin of our anxiety.
Usual leadership theory tells us to influence people’s thoughts and feelings. And coaching is to help leaders convince people to think and to feel in ways helpful to a business’ bottom line: think of the mission of the company and feel loyal and joyful towards the company. What is missing is the will. We believe that workers think and feel, have ideas and emotions, but we ignore the reality of a free will.
Leadership is to know, learn, and teach freedom, free will, consequences, responsibility, ownership, accountability, and ultimately choosing accountability for the sake of both financial necessity and existential honor. Here, in the inner zone of freedom and free will, lies the bedrock of the health of your body, your loves, and your pocketbook. As leader, you are a secular apostle preaching the power of freedom.
Principle #2 for Ethical Profits: Leaders Choose Principle
Leaders freely choose to live by principle. Immanuel Kant wrote; “Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” The moral law within me! Don’t we all sense it, if we hold still and listen in silence?
We all have a conscience. It draws us like a magnet to principle. It is never selfish. Conscience and the moral law have a mysterious draw or claim on us. Because of it, we can distinguish good from bad, right from wrong. It is related to respect, pride, dignity, and self-esteem. We know that we have a duty, a destiny, a task in life.
It is aroused by words, such as fairness, justice, equality, and liberty. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution resonate movingly to something inside that can only be called our conscience. Unless we respond to our inner soul, we skirt the perilous edge. Authentic leaders turn back from greed and selfishness, from narcissism and naive values, to return instead to things that matter most—to things that are eternal, genuinely worthy, honest, generous, and clean. True value is not what one person or one sect dictates to the rest of us. True value results from honest and collective examination of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. The poet Rilke said, “Do not seek answers; live the questions.” Leaders heed this call.
Principle #3 for Ethical Profits: Realism is a Way of Life
Realism is more than the numbers: it means you never lie to yourself, you do not deny the truth about yourself. You know that when something hurts, when you get inordinately angry, upset, enraged, or irrational, it is because you are threatened fundamentally, for you secretly agree. You can’t let it go and, in fact, as a last resort, expel this insight about yourself forcibly from your consciousness. Each person has a point of inferiority. There, when touched, you are sensitive, and there, when reminded, you become virulently defensive. There you say, not that you think you are inferior, but there in your depraved image of yourself you say that in fact you are inferior! But you keep the secret and get furious at anyone who dares to point it out to you.
Coming to terms with that reality, accepting that perception of yourself, is the very heart of your strength and your power as a rightful leader of men and women. You can take criticism, fair or unfair; you can take put downs, deserved or not; you can tolerate defeat, expected or not; and you can survive disgrace and humiliation.
To get there is realism beyond the statistics and strikes at the core of your emotional intelligence. People with power are both adulated and hated beyond what is reasonable. They can take it, even thrive on it and learn from it, and teach others how under such circumstances—not only to preserve their dignity but to magnify it. To restore your inner self-respect when logic is against it is to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That is why life confronts us with its tests and furnishes us with their messages. This is that bit of the soul which gets its baptism of fire. Have you passed the test?
Principle #4 for Ethical Profits: Grand Strategy is a Rare Virtue
The mark of an authentic leader is commitment to grand strategy. To enlarge the scope of your strategy, take any big news story—the War on Terror, once envied and lionized CEOs now facing censure, suicide bombers, and terrorist attacks—and ask: what deep lessons are there for me in how I conduct my business and my life?
What messages, what learning, about the things that you control can you derive from an enlarged perspective of any monumental event? Impeachment teaches us that dubious actions have unexpected and dramatic consequences, and sports victories teach us the power of persistence, commitment, focus, and dedication. You then ask: How does that apply to me and to my business? Do this with inspiration and creative innovation.
Principle #5 for Ethical Profits: Lead Through Language
Language is all the action you have. But it has power. At every opportunity, you engage workers in intelligent leadership conversations. You talk knowledgeably and authoritatively about free will and responsibility, of principle and conscience, of hard facts and self-knowledge, of grand strategy and innovation, and of greatness and chaos, as the ineradicable structures of the human mind. You talk through stories and metaphors—sports, politics, religion, entertainment, adventure, family, career moves—and relate that to work and company. You let everyone know: “This is how we do business here.”
Relationship between Business Ethics and Profits
The notions of business ethics and profits must once have had originality; they did not start out of the ground populous, lettered, and versed in many of the arts of life; they made themselves all this, and were then the greatest and most powerful nations of the world. More seriously, the more comfortable managers grow with the ingrained abuses of ethics in their businesses, the harder it is to make any changes, and the more vulnerable their companies become to uncertainties around the corner.
The combination of all these causes forms so great a mass of influences hostile to Individuality, that it is not easy to see how it can stand its ground.
Many unconventional marketing practices are not yet governed by clear rules regarding ethics. This is a big turning point in the transformation, both practically and emotionally.
The three phases of change can be managed in such a way that people understand the strategic rationale for the decisions handed down, even when they are tough, and clearly understand their role in shaping the new organization.
Ethics, in the end, is not something we do. It is something we become.