Management Articles


Ethics as Defined by Business Leaders

By: Brad Storm

Brad, PMP, is the technical director and editor of and has worked as a project manager and consultant on numerous projects in the financial services and IT industries. Currently, Brad is a member of the Project Management Institute and is an active member in local chapters. and

Our lives and our decisions are shaped by our own personal and cultural ethics. Moreover, we are also influenced by the cultural values and ethics of those around us. Our values, our cultural values, and our personal ethics help us with the decisions we must make every day when faced with ethical dilemmas both in our personal and professional lives.

Personal Values

To help us make our decisions in our lives, whether it is a personal or professional decision, we rely on our personal values, or our morals and beliefs. When we decide to do one thing over another we first check our personal values against the results of our decision. If we believe that our decision will create an outcome we can live with, agree with, or wish to have shared with others, then we are willing to agree that our decision was a good one to be made. This is true in our personal lives and in our business lives.

A recent study conducted by Fast Company Magazine finds an overwhelming majority of the individuals surveyed (95%) agree that the ethics of the leaders of the corporation significantly affect the way other parts of the business is conducted (Verschoor, 2006). Strong leaders are described as being "passionate, ruthless in the pursuit of success" ( 7) and are even described as having integrity and vision. It is clear that the way we work in our positions is dependent not only on our own personal values but also on the values of our leaders and of our organization.

Organizational Values

Along with personal values, an individual employed by an organization must also understand and embrace the values or the culture of that organization. Businesses that are successful, especially in the Unites States, according to Buytendijk, provide not only their employees, but their internal and external customers with the vision and values of the organization. This helps the employee understand what is expected of them and provides a way for employees to see how they are directly contributing to the organizations success.

The vision and values of an organization help to keep it on track towards a common goal shared by all individuals who must also share in the same visions and values. Decisions cannot be made on personal values alone. A corporation and its individuals must be willing to also examine the cultural values of countries in which it does business and review if and how these values align with the values of the organization or individual.

Cultural Values

Corporations and individuals, especially corporations doing business globally, must understand and evaluate the cultures of the people with which it wishes to do business in order to ensure smooth transactions and negotiations. Corporations are influenced by the cultural values of its employees in the same way countries develop an identity based on the culture of its citizens. In today's global marketplace, we must all be willing to understand the cultural differences in others in order to cooperatively do business across borders.

Employing the values of the culture is often difficult when dealing with other cultures. It is possible that the values of one culture do not align with the cultures of another. One culture might view innovation as bad rather than progress, while another might view slow decision-making as laziness rather than caution. Corporations must be willing to work together to compromise, not abandon, some values in order to create initiatives which are mutually beneficial.

Ethical Dilemmas

Decision-making and the behavior of management in business does not always rise to a high-level of moral conduct. According to Feldman (2004), this stems from the individuals own desire to please one's self and to do whatever it takes to bring success to the individual, rather than to the organization. There is a strong contrast between what one desires to do for oneself versus the desire to be selfless. An obvious example, also used by Feldman in his discussion of moral conduct versus professional decision-making, would be the demise of the Enron Corporation due, mainly, to the selfish decision-making by the management of the company. The decisions made, had they been made in public, would likely not have aligned with the values of those employed by the organization.

According to Buytendijk (2006), when an individual's personal values do not meld with the organization's values, than the individual will not remain with the company long. Likewise, when a customer's values do not match that of the corporation, then the corporation will not be able to implement new products or ideas as easily. Staying attuned to the values of the organization can help stymie the ethical dilemmas that might come when values do not align.

Furthermore, Buytendijk suggests asking three questions in order to ensure that ethical dilemmas do not occur. Are the values of the outcome of the initiative in agreement with the values of the organization? Do the values of the customer match the values of the decision? And, will the decision allow for a better link between the values of the customer and the values of the organization? Taking time to answer these three questions can help stop any possible ethical dilemmas from occurring either between the company, the employee, or the customer.


Buytendijk, F. (2006). The five keys to building a high-performance organization. Business Performance Management, 24-30.

Feldman, S. P. (2004). The professional conscience: a psychoanalytic study of moral character in Tolstoy's the death of Ivan Ilych. Journal of Business Ethics, 49(4), 311-328.

Verschoor, C. C. (2006). Strong ethics is a critical quality of leadership. Strategic Finance, 87(7), 19-20.

© Copyright 2007, Brad Storm

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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