Business ethics: do what’s right, or what’s right now?
Do you exert power?
If you have to manipulate or coerce someone into going along with your plan, or to achieve your goal, you should rethink your plan. If you can present your argument in a persuasive manner without robbing others of their ability to decide for themselves then you have acted ethically. The workplace is not a democracy most of the time, and subordinates must take directives from above. But, this is not coercion, or at least the type of coercion, from which you should refrain. Telling your head accountant to fudge the numbers or she’ll be fired is different from telling the accountant to finish a project before he goes home or there will be consequences because he has already fallen behind.
One of the things that separate humans from other animals is the ability to reason. When you strip someone of their capacity to reason, or act upon what they have reasoned to be the best choice, you have denied them their dignity and therefore acted unethically. Whether it is withholding information from stockholders or threatening punishment if your will is not followed, it’s denying someone or some group the capacity to reason for themselves.
It would be naïve to think that you can, or should, always act as ethicists would have you act. It would be unethical to let your business fail because you don’t want to do what is necessary to keep a business going. But, you should not act badly because it is easier than being good or because you are too motivated or self-interested to say no. What’s provided above is a set of questions that you can ask yourself when making decisions in order to help you decide which path to follow. The intention is not to pass judgment or tell you how to act, but give you a set of guidelines so that you can make decisions fully aware of their implications, ethically and otherwise.
Kyle Scott, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the University of Houston, with a Ph.D. in Political Science: American Political Theory and Public Law. He has authored two books and a forthcoming third, “Federalism: Theory and Practice,” will be available Spring 2011. Scott has taught American Politics, Political Theory, and Public Law at Miami University and University of North Florida. For more information, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.