Your values, code of ethics and the internalization of the same are the basis for your development of conscience. Ethics have to come from the inside out, not from the outside in.
Aristotle states, “Neither by nature, then, nor contrary to nature do the virtues arise in us; rather we are adapted by nature to receive them, and are made perfect by habit.” According to Aristotle, we can grow and expand in our virtuous behavior through habit. Start building ethical habits by using these eight reflection points each day:
1. Find every opportunity to practice the virtues of integrity, trustworthiness, honesty and compassion.
2. Ask yourself, how is your organization better today because you are in it? In what ways?
3. Weigh potential actions in order to cause more good than harm. (Consider the short-term vs. long-term consequences of your actions.)
4. Ask yourself, how are you a better person because you are part of this organization?
5. Remember to treat each person with the dignity and respect that every human being deserves.
6. Be aware of whom you benefit, whom you burden and how that decision is made.
7. Find and identify strengths of the organization that can help you become more human.
8. Practice getting beyond your own interests to make the organization stronger.
Internalize these ethics and values, making them a natural part of your decision-making process. Ethics are what you do even when nobody is looking. When you internalize your code of ethics—when principles like honesty, decency and looking out for the other team member form the basis of your daily decisions and actions—then you can make the tough choices with more confidence.
I’m not going to kid you: Even when you have a clear code of ethics to guide you, the tough choices aren’t any less difficult; they’re just clearer. Often the “right” course is simply the one that will cause less damage in the long term.
For example, the ethical choice may mean you refuse to support your boss in fudging figures on a report. In the short term this might cause a rift between you and your boss, perhaps even make you both look bad to company management. But in the long term your credibility, as well as your boss’s integrity, will be less damaged by telling the truth than by lying and possibly getting caught.
Once we have internalized our personal code of conduct, then comes the hard part: We must choose to abide by those ethics and values in each situation that arises. Remember, ethics are honesty not just in principle, but in action.