There is “Black” and there is “White”, and there are 50 shades of grey in between. Where do you stand? Do you know what shade you are? Is the shade where you think you are in the same shade as where others believe you are in? What makes some people shadier, lighter or darker in that 50 shades spectrum? And why 50? Can they be more/ less? Can we really be in the “white” all the time? And who decides and what determines the shadiness of each shade?
I wish I had accurate answers to these questions. But I believe, most of us agree that being humans inevitably puts us in a non 100% “white” place when it comes to ethics. Being in business puts us even farther than that. Hence the term “business ethics” is an oxymoron. Inherently, dealing with money always holds a seed of corruption along with it. Most businesses try to be ethical. They try to have a “Code of Ethics”, to create “Our Values” to complement their mission and vision, and tend to portray culture of corporate social responsibility. These are all great initiatives, but the effectiveness of these initiatives goes down to the individual level. Individuals in the organization, and specifically leaders, have the biggest influence on a company’s value system. Consequently, a company’s shade of ethics is painted by its leaders.
It’s understandable that leaders can’t be 100% “white” at 100% of the times especially that their value system is being tested constantly in business. Ethical leaders, however, try to predominantly be in the lighter grey shades than the darker shades. But what makes some leaders fail the test? And why do some leaders have more tendencies to be corrupt and move further into the shades of grey than others?
Our behaviors are a product of personal and environmental factors. It’s the individual’s value system as well as that of the society or culture that shade the morality of a particular behavior.
When ethics isn’t originally well rooted and rigidly embedded in the character of the person, it becomes prone to change and more susceptible to corruption. The environment becomes a catalyst for that particular “shade” we’re in. That environment can affect one’s original shade of ethics by either taking him/her towards a lighter or darker grey spectrum.
A few years ago, I tested that myself in the research I did for a business ethics class I was taking as a requirement towards my Ph.D. The participants of the research included a number of my expats colleagues in the UAE. Findings of the research proved the following hypothesis then: Expats who come from countries that they themselves consider more ethically advanced than the UAE, find themselves behaving more ethically in their home countries than they do in the UAE, and expats who come from countries that they themselves consider less ethically advanced than the UAE, find themselves behaving more ethically in the UAE than they do in their own home countries.
The more ethically debatable a topic is, the more shades appear on the spectrum. But then again, consistency of character is a key. Jumping from one extreme shade to another makes us lose credibility, and losing credibility makes us lose integrity. Take a stand; people and businesses alike, because this is where growth and its sustainability are. And taking a stand becomes much easier once we know what our values are.
Finally, while there is no definite answer to my original questions in this article, and in a world where almost nothing is absolute and everything is relative, we will still have a general consensus among all governments, cultures, and religions of what’s right and what’s wrong. I believe the Golden Rule will always be one of the most effective maxims to help us stay in the lighter shades. “Do onto others what you would want them to do onto you.”