Volume 34, January 2004: Ethics

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2004 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Your ethical system is your map of the good life.” — M. Scott Peck

“Only a human being is capable of being ethical; not abstract things like companies, government, media.” — W. Robert Thompson, Attorney and Ethics Specialist

“It is impossible for us to break the law. We can only break ourselves against the law.” — Cecil B. deMille commenting on his movie, The Ten Commandments

“The ideals which have always shone before me and filled me with the joy of living are goodness, beauty, and truth. To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.” — Albert Einstein


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Leading by principles, not dictating practices.
  • Articulating the values of an organization, as a foundation for principles and ethics.
  • Creating conditions for ethical reflection – dialogue about “what’s right”
  • Conducting oneself with the utmost integrity: living at your word and keeping agreements you make.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

As a leader, you are the primary ethics teacher in your organization. What you do, what you omit sends signals to the observing. And they will remember what you do, long after they forget what you said.

Frequently, you must choose right over right, or what is both right and good for your organization. Ethical dilemmas are defining moments for your leadership. By exposing how you make ethical decisions, you reveal the content of your own character and renew what values are to be embraced by your organization.

Make time for ethical reflection and consultation.

Frequently Asked Questions

“When there is no clear right or wrong, how do I proceed?”
Let me direct you to the writing of William D. Hitt. His typology of ethical principles categorizes the major schools of thinking. He believes you should test your dilemma from all four perspectives:
  • A. End-result Ethics: What are the expected consequences and what will produce the most good for the most people?
  • B. Rule Ethics: Are there laws, policies, codes of ethics that guide this?
  • C. Social Contract Ethics: What are the norms in our culture and the values of our organization?
  • D. Personalistic Ethics: What are our personal convictions and what feels like the right thing to do?
“How do I maintain a workplace environment that encourages honest and open communication about ethical issues?”
These are the conditions for ethical reflection:
  • Dialogue (value learning over being right)
  • Inquiry through open questions (what & how)
  • Trust
  • Involvement in decision-making
  • Role flexibility
  • Diversity of opinion
  • Far-sightedness
  • Focus on issues and facts, not blaming
“The area that concerns me most is how our people treat each other. Any suggestions?”
Some organizations have developed ground rules or principles or even a covenant, to define how individuals will behave with each other. For example, the management team at Shannon Health System in San Angelo, Texas developed these:
  • Be open with each other – speak up.
  • Assume that what we tell each other is meant to help.
  • It’s OK for people to take risks.
  • If you have a problem with me, come to me. If you hear a problem about me, bring it to me.
  • Hold my communication to you with the highest level of regard.
  • Make commitments you can keep. Keep commitments you make. If I miss a commitment, let me know.
  • Support the learning curve of others.
  • We will make each other and the team successful.

And Memorial Hospital in Logansport, Indiana:

  • Tell me before you tell others.
  • Support each others' success.
  • Show respect for each other.
  • Keep the bigger picture in mind.
  • Clarify how each decision will be made.
  • Balance empathy with work expectations.
  • Affirm each others' contributions.
  • Hold in confidence privileged information.
  • Support the person while challenging the idea.
  • If a change impacts me consult me.
  • Collaborate in movement of human resources.
“How do you go about developing an ethics program?”
The core is your company Purpose and Values. Your Code of Ethics or Principles derive from these. Insert teaching moments and ethics discussions in orientations, meetings, seminars. Maintain an open door and invite feedback. Conduct periodic ethics reviews.


BizEthicsBuzz, a monthly newsletter available through BizEthics@b.bcentral.com.

Business Ethics: Corporate Social Responsibility Report, a quarterly journal available through Business Ethics

Ethics Web Bookstore: Ethics Books.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Applied Ethics on the WWW: Applied Ethics Resources

Key, M. K. Keyzine: On Trust and Integrity.

Codes of ethics online: Codes of Ethics Collections.


  • Ankerstar, Sheryl & Dalke, David. Balancing Personal and Professional Ethics,HRD Press, 1995.
  • Badaracco, Joseph L. Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right. Harvard Business School Press, 1997.
  • Briskin, Alan. The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace. Berrett-Koehler, 1998.
  • Covey, Stephen R. Principle-Centered Leadership. Simon & Schuster, 1992.
  • Hart, Lois B. & Waisman, Charlotte S. 50 Activities for Developing Leaders: Volume II. HRD Press, 2003.
  • Hitt, William D. Ethics and Leadership. Batelle Memorial Institute, 1990.
  • Hultman, Ken. Balancing Individual and Organizational Values: Walking the Tightrope to Success. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2001.
  • Kidder, Rushworth M. How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living. Fireside, 1996.
  • Kouzes, James M. & Posner, Barry Z. The Credibility Factor: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It. Jossey-Bass, 2003.
  • Maxwell, John C. There's No Such Thing As “Business” Ethics: There's Only One Rule For Making Decisions. Warner Faith, 2003.
  • Peale, Norman V. Peale & Blanchard, Ken. The Power of Ethical Management. William Morrow, 1998.
  • Seglin, Jeffrey L . The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull you Apart. John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
  • Wheatley, Margaret J. & Kellner-Rogers, Myron. A Simpler Way. Berrett-Koehler, 1999.


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