How to Make Good Ethical Decisions

From time to time we are all faced with important decisions. Those decisions often have consequences that can involve many important aspects of our lives, to include money, health, security, employment, and religion, to name a few.

Sometimes those decisions are influenced, or perhaps even driven, by ethical considerations. Business leaders routinely face choices in which ethical standards can be ignored, adhered to, or shaded in an attempt at some sort of compromise.

What should we do when faced with such a decision?

Let’s begin with an explanation: Ethics is a set of standards that tell us how we should behave in the many situations in which we find ourselves. It is doing what we should do, in being able to discern between what is right and what is not. It isn’t always the easiest and most convenient thing to do, and can sometimes be the least popular of the available choices, but it is the right thing to do.

So, how should such a decision be made? Is there a framework for making ethical decisions? I believe there is. Consider the following:

Take the time to think. Don’t make a rash decision. Start by asking: Is this an ethical issue? Consider the impact of the decision upon the stakeholders, or those most affected. Who gets harmed, and how can the harm be reduced? Could there be any collateral damage? Are there legal implications? What are the goals I want to achieve? Take the necessary amount of time to consider the issues from all angles.

Get the facts. Determine what you know, and then what you need to know. Always challenge the providers of the facts until sufficient degrees of reliability and credibility are established. Understand that information is never perfect, nor will you ever have all the information needed to make a perfect decision.

Evaluate alternative courses of action. Once you have the relevant facts and you’ve established what goals you are targeting, then start developing options. If you can come up with only one or two choices, then think harder.

Consider the consequences. Will any of the options violate any core ethical values? If so, eliminate those choices. Who will be affected? What would a reasonable person do? Could I explain in good faith each of the remaining choices to my own mother? Or to “60 Minutes”?

Make a decision. And monitor the decision once made. Never be afraid to make a decision, but likewise never be afraid to re-assess the situation if necessary.

Did you make the right ethical decision? Well, can you sleep at night? That’s always a good indication.