"Hitting the Ethics Gym..."
I came across a timely blog on ethics that I wanted to share. I think it’s timely not only because of the New Year theme but also because our athletes are headed to Sochi. I am sure there will be issues that arise that will test our ethics. The content below is from a blog post by renowned ethicist John Dalla Costa and John makes the point that ethics are like muscles that need to be exercised.
HITTING THE ETHICS GYM FOR A NEW YEAR'S WORKOUT
For a little while at least many of us will be sweating a bit more than usual to get into shape. But what about honing our professional skills? How do we strengthen them? And our workplaces. How do we pump up our teams and organizations to get ready for all the ordeals and opportunities coming at us?
I tell the MBA students and Board Directors I teach that ethics is like any other muscle – it gets stronger with frequent exercise. Training matters. We can’t expect to have the ethical brawn to meet the moral demands of our toughest questions without exercising our responsibilities diligently on everyday projects.
Here are seven ethics exercises to get the new year off on the right track.
1. Start with ethical stretching. As you do your daily, weekly or yearly “to-do” list, set out your parallel “to-be” list. Just like athletes who visualize crossing the finish line in glory, imagine the integrity achievement that you would wish to have define your professional legacy. None of us are perfect. Which character muscle groups do you need to tone and buff to go the distance as ethical over-achievers?
2. Warm-up with some ethical cardio. Strategic or technical proficiency usually exercises our minds, while compartmentalizing emotions. Overtraining one muscle group is never a good thing. Heart muscles are especially important for the exertion required to get from knowing what’s right, to doing what’s right. In Moral SentimentsAdam Smith explains that our sense of responsibility grows from having “sympathy” for those around us. Getting your ethical heart rate up to this level of caring is crucial, both to be able to feel concern for others’ needs or vulnerabilities, and to grow the “ability” to improvise an effective “response.”
3. Strengthen your ethical core. All our judgments and actions ultimately depend on the quality of our integrity. Character develops by setting high standards, learning from mistakes, taking responsibility proactively, and sharing the gifts from our perspective and achievements. Do some stock-taking sit-ups: Have you set and met the norms of integrity? If not, why not? How fit are you in terms of fairness, honesty and trustworthiness? How strong is your actual consistency between espoused principles and actual everyday practice? You should feel some muscle burn from crunching your integrity, but that strength pays out later in balance.
4. High intensity trust circuit. Trust is the outcome of one’s integrity. One of the quickest ways to test your capacity for trust is by going back to Smith, and imagining how his “impartial spectator” would evaluate your ethical conditioning. Specifically, would someone objectively reviewing the data of your decisions and actions judge you to be respectful of others? Would you be seen as lifting your share of duties for protecting and advancing human rights? And would your commitment-responsibility stand up as authentic by an impartial auditor?
Now add more resistance: How would the people that you work with, or that rely on you – peers, colleagues, suppliers, customers or stakeholders - judge your trustworthiness? Would they see you as someone who enhances their dignity, or ignores it? It’s much harder building trust than losing it, which is why with ethics, as in the gym: no pain, no gain.
5. Increase resistance with more responsibility. Anaerobic exercises work best when there is both positive and negative resistance: pushing and pulling; extending and releasing. Ethics is the same. We usually focus on the negative resistance, which involves setting prohibitions, avoiding wrong-doing, and enforcing compliance. But positive resistance may be even more important because it exercises very different muscles – focusing on reaching for ideals, doing what is right despite the cost, and building generative social capital. Focus on the muscles that productivity often atrophies: listen more than speak; reach out with a helping hand; be generous without expectations of reciprocity; extend courtesy when others need to be seen, heard or served.
6. Justice Fartlek. Even the most well-intentioned exercise programs can become boring and counterproductive. Ethics regimens risk similar fatigue, particularly when they become more about compliance than conscience. To break monotony and build endurance, marathon runners add “Fartlek” sessions to their training – mixing short-duration, high-speed sprints into one’s otherwise normally-paced run. Fartlek for justice adopts a flat-out, high-intensity approach to addressing in a very short period of time the issue of most importance to your harshest critics. For example, ethical Fartlek for oil companies would involve something like high-intensity carbon emissions reductions; for food companies something like high-intensity anti-obesity investments; for retailers with sweatshops in their supply chain something like high-intensity living-wage acceleration programs. Every company or product is enmeshed in a multitude of justice issues. Ethical Fartlek training helps build the skills to get ahead of crisis, and for the endurance to make a transformational difference.
7. Accountability squats. Research tells us that suspicion is primarily caused by accountability failures. When have you not kept your promises? What ethical mistakes have you made? What lessons can you draw from having disappointed the trust or confidence others placed in you? Now push back. What do you need to do to stand upright? On what issue will you take a stand to demonstrate your growing ethical fitness? And which new year’s responsibility will you embrace to show off your chiseled ethical musculature?
Like any exercise program this may be hard at first, but once the the ethical endorphins kick in you’ll feel the good for a long time.
For more posts by John Dalla Costa, visit his blog: www.ceo-ethics.com.