U01: Importance of Understanding your Personal Ethical Code

Ethics is not black and white.  It is a process that involves many factors such as: values, morals, behaviors and the situation (PSU, n.d)  What one individual considers the right action, another individual could consider the same action wrong.  Thus it is important to understand how we form our values, morals and beliefs.  As we age, we develop our set of values based on the environment we grew up in, our personal experiences and our education (PSU, n.d).  For example, it is commonly known that people from different cultures have different values.  When looking at the American culture versus the French culture we can see a difference in the ethical standard of whistle blowing: “Compared to the French, American companies consider it to be a natural part of business…the French, on the other hand tend to view whistle blowing as an undermining solidarity among coworker” (Boundless, 2016).  We can see how the environment we grow up in shapes how we view certain situations.  Similarly to cultural differences, ethical standards vary across businesses.  I have worked for two companies that have some sort of influence over people outside of the company.  One an oil and gas company that had to make legal binding contracts with landowners for the rights to their minerals, the other a bankruptcy law firm that had to make contracts with clients in order to outline what it means if the client retains the firm’s services.  In both companies, you would hope that they would treat the individual with whom they are working with, with the utmost respect and honesty.  This was not the case.  One company went out of their way to make sure that the client was treated well, even going to sit down and explain to landowners that did not understand the Oil, Gas and Mineral Lease the specifics of leasing their minerals.  The other company manipulated their clients with fear to get the contract signed and then deceived them afterwards to increase their trust in the company.  For me, it was important that I had worked at the oil and gas company before working for the law firm because it reaffirmed my beliefs on how people should be treated. Thus, I was able to leave my position at the law firm with no regrets. As a student now I am learning about the different ways someone could approach an ethical situation.  They could look at the problem they face via a subjective lens where they consider themselves, or the could face the problem via an objective lens where they would consider those individuals that make up the situation (PSU,n.d).  Learning these different approaches allows me to take a step back from the situation in front of me and see why someone may have made the decision they did, or how I may have approached the situation differently.  I am now able to look back at my experience at the law firm and see how unethical leadership played a role in the identity of that company.  My experiences now have taught me the importance of having your own ethical code.  If I had not known my own personal ethical standards,  I would still be working for a law firm that used fear and intimidation to retain clients.  As you continue to go through life, you continue to develop and learn and you may adapt your views on what you value or what you believe is the right action.  Because of this, it is always important to understand your personal code of ethics.  Understanding your personal ethical code allows you to line up  what you believe is right to what the company believes is right. More importantly, “understanding the importance of ethics will increase the likelihood of leaders to adopt ethical leadership…If leaders understood that the ethics development process would make them an effective leader, an increasing number of leaders would have a personal ethics system. Understanding the importance of ethics is critical because leaders will consciously work to develop and use ethics, which makes them more effective” (Waggoner, 2010). 


Boundless (2016). Boundless Management. Retrieved from https://www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/ethics-in-business-13/ethics-an-overview-95/culture-and-ethics-448-8309/

Penn State University (n.d.). U01 The Basics of Ethical Leadership. Penn State World Campus. Retrieved from Penn State University Ethics and Leadership: https://psu.instructure.com

Waggoner, J. (2010). Ethics and Leadership: How Personal Ethics Produce Effective Leaders. Retrieved from CMC Senior Theses Paper 26: http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cmc_theses/26


One Comment

  1. Toby Mark Quinton September 25, 2016 at 2:45 PM #

    I enjoyed this blog because it addressed not only the ethical and unethical decisions that companies make but it also looks at the importance of personal leadership ethics. Understanding what you stand for ethically is such an important part of leadership. “Ethics is concerned with the kinds of values and morals an individual or society finds desirable or appropriate” (Northouse, 2015, p. 330).

    In my experience, many people that are placed into leadership roles are initially most interested in learning and following the many guidelines of their organization. (Which includes understanding the ethical guidelines of the leader). Unfortunately, that learning doesn’t always translate to knowing and defining their personal ethical standards as a leader. Leaders that don’t clearly define their values for example could be un-intendidly violating many of them. This can come at a high cost to the leader such as his or her overall wellbeing.

    For example, many leaders I have worked with struggle with the concepts of “work life balance” or “wellness”. In those situations, the leaders haven’t defined their values, morals or looked at the behaviors that are in concert with their personal ethics. As a result, the leader does things that directly impact his or her ethical code. Doing things like, taking on more work than necessary or participating in work activities that impact their overall wellness. When a leader doesn’t do the work of understanding their “personal ethical code” as you explained, they are compromising themselves. From the perspective of leadership wellness, when a leader makes such a compromise of their ethics it can contribute to the leader feeling burned out.

    As you said, leaders with personal ethics systems are more effective. Understanding their personal ethical code AND the ethics of the organization is likely to help them become stronger leaders for themselves and others.


    Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

    The Pennsylvania State Unviersity. (2016). Ethics and Leadership [online lecture]. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1791578

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