The UK Institute of Business Ethics suggests a simple ‘test’ for ethical decision-making in business (see their website for their version). Adapted below it is applicable to all decisions in all types of organisations and in life as a whole. It’s a remarkably easy test to apply. Try it next time you have to make a decision:
- transparency – am I happy to make my decision public – especially to the people affected by it?
- effect – have I fully considered the harmful effects of my decision and how to avoid them?
- fairness – would my decision be considered fair by everyone affected by it (consider all stakeholders – the effects of decisions can be far-reaching)
If you can honestly answer Yes to each of the above questions then you are likely to be making an ethical decision. If you have any doubt about saying Yes to any of the questions then you should think about things more carefully. Maybe there is an entirely different and better solution – there often is.
If you can’t decide how to answer these questions, seek input from someone who has strong ethical principles, and who owes you nothing. Especially do not ask anyone to advise you about difficult decisions if they owe you some sort of allegiance.
Leaders can sometimes be blinded by their own feelings of self-importance, and more dangerously can believe that the leader’s job requires them to shoulder the burden of decisions which cause anguish and suffering, or worse. Believing that leadership carries some sort of right to take risks with other people’s well-being is nothing more than arrogant delusion. A strong feature of good leadership is knowing when, and having the strength, to find another way – the ethical way.