In Praise of the Ethical Executive!

This is a thank you note to ethical executives everywhere. Thank you for all that you do!

I know that this is not an easy time to be out in front. The economy is uncertain. Competition is global. The pace of change is bewildering. You feel the stress of having people who depend upon you. And you know the stakes at risk whenever you make a decision.

This pressure is only compounded when one considers the rewards available to those who can achieve even the shortest-term “success.” An athlete needs only one great season to be a celebrity. A political figure can gain tremendous power not by wisdom, but by command of the sound bite. A corporate executive can walk away with millions if a quarterly report exceeds expectations. Shortcuts are so available, so well worn. And, after all, everybody’s doing it – “industry standard!”

Then come the Anthony Weiners and Elliot Spitzers, the Ken Lays, Bernie Madoffs, and Raj Rajaratnams… Their failures provoke such bitterness in the broader public that leadership itself brings one under suspicion. Serve in office, manage a company, be seen in the spotlight and someone will assume that you must be up to no good. If there is a benefit of the doubt, those in leadership may well not get it.

And yet, you persevere. You never forget the importance of character. You have put in the work to find your moral compass and you let it guide your decisions. You take feedback, but you don’t let it drive you. When you commit a wrong – as we all do – you work to make it right. And you never capitulate to the pressures to compromise your principles. Most of all, you remember that business exists to make the world a better place, and that you are the bearer of a public trust.

For all of this, I thank you – the many of you I know and the many more I do not (at least not yet). I thank you for your dedication and I want you to know that this blog is for you!

I learned long ago that ethicists have little to teach those who are not already ethical. No one can install principles in those who care nothing for them. What ethicists can do is make life far easier for those who are already working to do the right thing. For them, specialists can share research, explain the nuances of theory, curate information, and provoke creative dialogue… And that is what I want to do for you.

I consider it my mission to make this blog a place where you can quickly and easily find the tools you need to carry out your work as an ethical executive. I will do my best to ensure that a small investment of your time pays a rich return in creating the culture of integrity in your organization that I know means so much to you.

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