L02: Habit and Character

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

One Comment

  1. Michelle Carolina Salgado February 3, 2016 at 2:29 PM #


    The Egoistic Approach would be very applicable to the topic you presented. It is described as when and individual calculates the utilitarian approach and uses it to make the best product for his or her self-interest (Brown, 2013). If an individual does engage in bad habits, they could probably excuse them if they are for their advantage. Also if this does not affect the overall benefit of society, even if they are not trying to accomplish this. The famous philosopher and writer Ayn Rand is known to be one of the most influential advocates for this approach. She argues that “self-interest is a prerequisite to self-respect and to respect for others” (Brown, 2013). She has encouraged many people to follow this approach, and her work is discussed in many universities. Hence; many would argue that this is not an unethical approach.

    Another important thing about bad habits could be the positive reinforcement gained from these acts. Sometimes individuals who are in power, regardless off their actions are seen as role models. Because of their status, what they are able to accomplish, and what they might be able to get away with because of who they are, their actions become idolized and followed. They might no longer be seen to some as unethical, or bad, but desirable. To others, however, it is something that needs to be changed. This is why we need to teach ethical standards. I agree with you that this is why it is important to apply and teach the five principles of ethical leadership. If people are used to these types of role models and are not taught any different, they will keep viewing these vices as desirable.


    Brown University. (2013, May). A Framework for Making Ethical Decisions. Retrieved February 3, 2016 from: http://www.brown.edu/academics/science-and-technology-studies/framework-making-ethical-decisions.

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