Beware of Elastic Ethics!

Original Spanish version published in America Economia (Latam) on August 17, 2013

Can you get away with lying, distorting the truth, or deceiving people? Increasingly less! Can you trust someone who cheats, lies, or “stretches” the truth in any part of their life, justifying their actions by “separating” one world from the other? Does that same person (indivisible) take us by surprise, regardless of the environment or circumstance in which we find each other?

Technology is increasingly doing away with these “separations” between our professional, business, personal, and family lives. Everything becomes public, everything comes to light, everything can be posted on the web or show up one day on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or some blog.

All of our actions will be judged and remembered. There are increasingly fewer “barriers” between what is private and what is public. The expected morals are the same for all “parts” of our life. The business world does not pardon those who do not keep their word or act unethically, no matter how covertly. Everything becomes known. Everything is found out. So, if only out of fear that our mistake will be discovered, it is better not to risk losing the trust of our loved ones or our present or potential employers-clients.

Obviously, this is not about being saints or about being paranoid, but it is about acting with integrity, transparency, and being increasingly aware of and responsible for the consequences of our behavior. If we make a mistake, it is imperative that we be able to acknowledge and make amends for that mistake as soon as possible.

We all want to be able to trust people, and for people to be able to trust us. That trust, that moral authority, as we know, ensues from showing respect for others, acting honorably, keeping our word, and conducting ourselves with integrity.

Does it pay to do the right thing, to act ethically? Definitely, yes, especially if we consider, analyze, and plan our personal and professional life as a whole for the short, medium, and long term. Our ethical errors will pursue us for the rest of our lives. And they will continue to do so even when we ourselves may have forgotten them.

Doing the right thing, keeping your word, acting honestly, looking out for the well-being of others, and respecting others are the foundation of a person’s integrity, uprightness, and reputation. To practice our values –over and above what others may say or think about us– makes us better people and more attractive professionals in the job market because our personal brand is a reflection of who we are and how we see ourselves.

Can we do business successfully while being honest? Yes. Will that success be enduring and relevant in the long run? Yes. Can we be somewhat ethical or have an “elastic morality” and be successful? Maybe. Will that success be lasting? No.

Can we play both sides and operate in businesses that have ethical conflicts between them? Yes, we could, but it would not last. When there are conflicts of interest, everything comes to light. The reputation of those companies will always be brought into question by serious, respected, and respectable companies.

Can we be connected, do business, or associate with unethical people without suffering the consequences? No. We are also defined by those with whom we choose to associate. Can we deceive the market for long without their becoming aware of the unfair competition? Increasingly less, and even more so now that respectable companies have real hallmarks and validations for their brands in a serious effort to self-regulate and distance themselves from those who try to corrupt business systems with impunity.

Can people blatantly fabricate and falsify information about our actions, our businesses, or us  without paying the consequences or being discovered? No, and lies are definitely being discovered and exposed increasingly faster. Our interconnected society is increasingly becoming a prosecutor watching everyone’s actions.

To conclude, I know that many people ask themselves how they can recognize an upright and ethical professional or entrepreneur. I give them the “no” test. It is easy to recognize an ethical person when he or she knows how to say no to the temptations of “elastic ethics”, even at the expense of losing their position, power, or profitable business. Upright and honorable people say no when they should. We do so for ourselves, for our career and our reputation, for our personal brand and our employability, and, of course, for our success, but most of all because it is the right thing to do.

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Debemos cuidar nuestra marca personal con los subordinados, ya que son ellos los que nos llegan a conocer, y quienes podrán hacer o deshacer nuestra reputación sin pensarlo dos veces.


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