This past week the World Economic Forum was held in Davos, Switzerland. The mood was somber, as it should be, given the current state of the global economy.

A recent USA Today article featured forum founder Klaus Schwab lamenting excesses resulting in economic turmoil and public unrest. He’s quoted as saying, “Free markets have to serve society,” and that a “lack of inclusiveness in the capitalist system” has generated these issues.

“We have sinned,” he declared, noting that this year’s forum would emphasize ethics and “resetting the moral compass of the world’s business and political community.” Hopefully the 45 world leaders in attendance will come away with “one heart, one mind, and one voice” with a plan to align economic policy and reality so service to society is the norm.

That is a longer term solution. In the short term, what can you do to ensure you behave ethically – in your own eyes and in those who observe your plans, decisions, and actions – each day?

Blanchard’s Ethics Check

In their book, The Power of Ethical Management, Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale propose a simple ethics check. Analyzing the answers to these three questions can help clarify whether your behavior is ethical, in your and others’ eyes.

  1. Is it legal?
    The first question in the Ethics Check is founded upon society’s “rules and regulations.” Most of the rules and regulations we live under are well-known; broadly held rules and regulations enable civility and forward-movement. A lack of broadly held rules creates chaos. An example? Driving rules. In the USA we drive in the right-hand lane in cars with driving controls on the left side front seat. Drop us in the UK, though, and our norms will be rattled! If an action is in accord with local, widely-held, community rules, the answer to this question must be “yes.”
  2. Is it fair?
    The second question includes others in the ethics equation. This avenue explores how well the action serves others. If an unfair advantage is gained, the answer to this question must be “no.” Note also that an action may be legal but, if it is unfair, it separates rather than aligns heads, hearts, and hands of those impacted by the plan, decision, or action.
  3. How does it make you feel about yourself?
    The last question in the Ethics Check invites public scrutiny, asking “How would you feel if your actions were published in the local newspaper or local news station?” If you or your family read about your actions and felt that you took advantage, were selfish, or won without honor, the answer to this question must be “no.”

Ethical Behavior Requires MORE Than Your Assessment

No matter your role (leader or follower) in your organization (be it a company or even a family), everything you do either helps, hinders, or hurts a positive, inspiring environment in which to operate. Your behavior will either serve society (your family or company) or it will not.

Realize that your plans, decisions, and actions will be observed by others and they will have an opinion about how ethically you’re behaving. Great leaders and great contributors create a safe environment for feedback. They seek others insights on how their behavior is perceived.

Asking is not risky. Asking is simply a means to learning how you are seen. To be seen as a highly ethical player in your environment, your actions may need refinement.

What is your experience with ethical (or not so) bosses or team members? Join in the conversation in the comments section below.

Chris’ new book, #POSITIVITY AT WORK tweet, is set for release in February ’12.

S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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