As leaders, it is imperative that our personal ethics code do not derail the vision and growth of an organization. Leaders need to cultivate a habit of good morals as this would determine their priorities when faced with ethical challenges or temptations that will surely arise in their environments. As Howard and Korver (2008) said, “we must master ethical distinctions to enable clear ethical thinking. We must commit in advance to ethical principles. And we must exercise disciplined decision-making skills to choose wisely.”
Personal ethics code dictates the perception of right and wrong in an individual and also determines the person’s susceptibility to temptations that arise in personal or professional settings. However, one might think this is inborn but it isn’t. According to Trine (1899/1900, p. 2), we form habits unconsciously, every moment of our lives; some desirable and others undesirable. He went on to note that every act is preceded by a thought; dominant thoughts determine dominating actions and when repeated, these actions solidifies into habits and the collection of habits makes up one’s character. (Trine (1899/1900, p. 3).
Day after day, we read stories about unethical behaviors in high-profile individuals in all kinds of organization: political, business, religious, etc. While initial reactions to these stories are to condemn and judge, we don’t consider what their personal ethical codes are. As humans, we are all susceptible to temptation and especially if there isn’t a solid foundation of habitual morality. If we continuously yield to and engage in bad habits like lying, stealing, cheating, deception, self-centerdness, etc. in our daily lives, there would be no room for the development of good morals.
Habitual immorality like the ones mentioned above, are most often than not intertwined. They develop into or lead to vices like greed, gambling, alcoholism, addiction, etc. which make one susceptible to ethical temptations and consequently, ethical violations of professional ethics codes of conduct (PSY 533, 2016). For example, a person who lies to family or friends is more likely to lie about a company’s financial performance to either convey a positive message to investors and stakeholders (deception), or to negative one to employees for the purpose of denying them the appropriate rewards or recognition (deception and cheating). Another example is someone who steals will probably be comfortable in stealing ideas to pass off as his own, or physical theft of office equipment.
How does one begin to change a character created by bad habits? How do we improve our personal ethics code? First step is to be truthful to yourself about your shortcomings, after all, we can’t deceive ourselves even if others are thoroughly convinced. An awareness will guide you to seek help if necessary. Secondly, consciously deciding to “Do The Right Thing” will help you develop a better sense of integrity no matter the consequences. Lastly, continuously applying the five principles of ethical leadership: respect, honesty, integrity, justice and fairness (Northouse, 2015) in everyday situations, big or small, would eventually cause changes in habits which in turn would result in a change of character. (Trine (1899/1900, p. 3)
- Trine, R.W., (1899/1900/2006). Character-Building Thought Power. (pp. 1-3). New York, NY: Cosimo
- Howard, R.A., & Korver, C.D., (2008). Ethics for the Real World: Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisions in Work and Life. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.
- Pennsylvania State University. (2016). PSY 533 Spring 2016 Lesson 02. [Online Lecture]. Retrieved January 23, 2016 from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390/pages/l02-temptations?module_item_id=20678649
- Northouse, P.G., (2015). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications