What is business ethics?

Is it a moral standard? Is it a universal set of rules, or is it personal to each of us? Is it a matter just for people involved in high-stakes deals, or for all of us?

I recently read a book by Adam Grant called Give & Take. In it, Grant quotes a businessman as saying that he’d always had a high value for character, and that trustworthiness and a personal code of ethics were high priorities. That man was Ken Lay, the former CEO of Enron.

_38354703_enron_300In the early 2000’s, Enron because synonymous with deception after a grand accounting fraud conspiracy was revealed. And yet Lay, Enron’s leader, saw himself as moral. As ethical.

Ethical standards vary widely depending on who you’re talking to. Merriam-Webster defines ethics as, “rules of behavior ased on ideas about what is morally good and bad.”

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Warren Buffett, one of the world’s most trusted businesspeople, has his own litmus test for making decisions. He says to conduct yourself in a manner that you would never be ashamed to read about on the front page of tomorrow’s paper.

Still unsure about your own ethical standards? Here are a few more tips to consider when you’re making a difficult decision:

  1. We usually think we’re right, even when we’re not. So put people in your life who will ask you tough question and tell you what you don’t want to hear. Then be humble and listen to them.
  2. If you find yourself justifying your way of thinking, ask yourself why it takes defending. Chances are, you don’t believe in it, either.
  3. Ask yourself, “how much is my integrity worth?” the next time you’re thinking about exaggerating an expense on your taxes or giving a customer less than they’re expecting. Put that price tag on your reputation. That $100, $5, or $1 doesn’t look so hot anymore, does it?

Whatever your ethical standard, stick to it. Keep it when it’s hard to do so. Keep it when it costs you. You’ll have increased the value of your integrity—your reputation as a result.

For more on business ethics, watch our episode, “Understanding Business Ethics.”

If you’re an educator looking to teach on the subject of business ethics, download our free lesson plans here.