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Interpreting Ethics as a Daily Mandate


There is much discussion in today’s corporate environment about accountability and responsibility. This rich debate has led me to consider at length the subject of applied or “operationalized” ethics.

My own definition of ethics, culled over several decades of experience in diverse environments, is that it is a combination of conduct and philosophy-based decision making. It evolves from our historical pattern of behavior, and the “rightness” of our choices. It is the authenticity of our decision making, and is based in the notion of servant leadership, which requires you to serve organizational interest before self-interest. Further, it reflects stewardship—the idea that we are socially responsible to our community at large.

These conclusions are core to the mind-set of the communicator. As lead counselors of senior management, and as the primary liaison to the public, we are in a position of great influence. Our behavior must be credible for our organizations to foster a positive image and reputation. Our conduct cannot be extricated from our organization’s performance.

It is also impossible, in my view, to consider ethical conduct as independent from character. An individual may be competent—the most proficient in their field—but lack the core integrity and commitment that shapes and prepares them to make sound, fair and intrinsically “just” decisions. A man or woman may be dedicated, hard-working, driven and intense—but not balanced and objective in their thinking.

They may be tough in a crisis, and able to uncover the right questions and reach the right answers. But if the qualities of ethical character are missing from the equation, that person is not a leader. They cannot set a path that is worthy of study and pursue it as a best practice. They cannot model the highest ideals of organizational performance and motivate others to follow their path.

What are these qualities of character that make a man or woman ethical? Most would say honesty—the ability to own up to mistakes and weaknesses, to accept the obligation to make improvements. At National Security Technologies, we continuously engage in assessment activities, and this inquisitive process isn’t focused on blame but on solutions. This very concentration on where we have erred or have made profound discoveries guides us to excel. We reward improvement, and this alone is a meaningful indicator of how greatly our company values honesty.

To act with character requires that we approach our team members with balance and curiosity. We must remain aware of the varying perspectives that influence sound choices and the weighing of consequences. It may be humbling, but we cannot possibly possess all of the answers. If we fail to encourage others to articulate their positions and offer advice, we also fail to prod and discover. Ultimately, we have compromised our ability to view an issue from myriad angles, and we make limited—rather than well-rounded and strategic—choices.

Character demands analytical thinking that is measured against the emotional impact of an action. It requires us to use knowledge and action as companions in a complex process of weighing data, considering consequences and determining how we will proceed. We must consider how our conduct will be perceived by others and whether we can live with the conclusions they draw. Perspective is the great equalizer, and market results mean little if we do not conduct ourselves with ethical consistency and concern.

As a professional group, communicators provide an essential benchmark that infuses character into process. Through precision, clarity and conviction, we emulate the many dimensions of ethical leadership. We must appreciate the heavy obligations of our unique role, and approach it with discipline and the best of intentions.

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