What do you think has been your biggest lesson learn’t to date? – a question I was asked on a recent LinkedIN post. Taking the question very seriously I thought through a bunch of things – how to scale, how to close, how to shape an effective tribe, how to mature a board, how to negotiate difficult contracts? so many things. Then it dawned on me, the one thing that had posed issues in all of those difficult lessons had come down to people, their ethics and my loss of innocence when I realised – People Lie, and get away with it.

Now I am not talking about marketing embellishment, you know when you talk up your CV slightly in an interview, or the size and scale of your last project, the size of that pumpkin you grew last year or that snapper you caught.

I am talking about blatantly, knowingly telling an untruth for your own gain to the detriment of the other party – a moral and ethical reality on reflection I was shocked to learn the hard way, more than once. That probably sounds like I am gullible, perhaps? I would however categorise my expectation that everyone in life shared a core values basis with socially responsible motives as naive and optimistic.

Ethical Business

‘It is difficult, but not impossible, to conduct strictly honest business.’ Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi is reported to have gone on to say “what is true is that honesty is incompatible with amassing of a large fortune” – confronting stuff.

The topic of Ethical Business isn’t new. There are references in Roman times of unethical trading practises. The need to understand and educate ourselves didn’t move into the mainstream in the 1970’s and 80’s with courses becoming prevalent, initially in Financial Practises, then moving onto Labour and Human Resources, Social Corporate Responsibility, you can major in Business Ethics for instance.

Equally as we all know there are now laws governing financial ethics devised to redress specific practises – SOX introduced post Enron and others committing accounting fraud for example – yet big business still provides headlines of unethical trading practises on a semi-regular basis all over the globe, and these are just the ones who were caught.

In an increasing connected and evolved world the argument for ethical, sustainable business practises becoming the only kind of business practise can be well made these days. It is certainly the only kind of business I will knowingly engage with – which might result in losing or missing out on contracts, being honest and engaging honestly.

The truth is important, in life and in business

“One of our problems is that ethics is never a business issue or a social issue or a political issue. It is always a personal issue.” John C. Maxwell, from Business Ethics: Discover the One Rule for Making Decisions

A great example of this we can all relate to is a major publicly run political race – like the current US Presidential elections – which to a certain extent come down to two things with some candidates (yes I am ignoring policy for a moment) – do we believe what they are saying? and if they are caught in a lie, can they convince us this won’t happen when they are in office?

Like in politics the moral and ethical standpoint of a candidate is often the only defining characteristic to differentiate them. This standard should extend to all aspects of our lives including Business without question.

Preparation is Key to success – 3 Tips

First of all I am not religious at all, I just grew up believing we live in an ecosystem where everyone has to play their part, doing the right thing blah blah blah. So this isn’t intended as a soap box kind of blog. It’s intended as a self help one. Having experienced this a few times now my advice to myself, and others on what to do:

  1. Develop a personal code – cheesy I know, this can form part of your personal brand -something you become known for – values, moral or ethical position on things, a code you live by
    • It is also useful to measure alignment with others against and good to know where you stand on issues before they arise
  2. Scratch the surface before you sign – if you are going into partnership with, or employing someone, find out if you hold strong moral and ethical alignment, test them against your personal code
    • As always you should protect yourself, a contract or even a Memorandum of Understanding
  3. Call it out and Walk away – sometimes it’s just a feeling, other times you catch someone in a lie, either way if you are feeling uncomfortable or for-see challenges with a deal then be brave Call it out and Walk away

Sadly none of these Tips will help when you next see the someone-who-lies-to-proffer-gain-and-gets-away-with-it-without-recourse. That’s a harder call to make, it is hard not to come across as a stone thrower, jealous or a killjoy – when others around haven’t experienced or realised the same behaviour you won’t necessarily be heard. If you do decide to confront or out them – Be clear on your facts. If you go into battle try to do so with reason not emotion.

Final thought – If you believe in it, Karma is on your side. If you don’t, as my mother always said “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” sometimes that line is powerful! give it a try, Vic.


Thank you Duncan Hall for offering this photo under Creative Commons license for use by others.