Image

There's No Such Thing as "Business" Ethics

The wave of recent corporate scandals has spurred an increased interest in business ethics. As illegal and unethical behavior is exposed in the business world, society has demanded reform.

In his book, There's No Such Thing as “Business” Ethics, John C. Maxwell firmly contends that there is no difference between business ethics and general moral behavior. “There's no such thing as business ethics,” writes Maxwell, “there's only ethics. People try to use one set of ethics for their professional life, another for their spiritual life, and still another at home with their family… If you desire to be ethical, you live it by one standard across the board.” He believes that people behave unethically because of the convenience and the desire to win no matter the cost. In addition, people rationalize their choices with relativism by choosing their own ethical standards to guide their behavior.

To guide the ethical mindset and establish an “integrity guideline,” Maxwell stresses the Golden Rule, a principle rooted in many diverse cultures, ranging from Judaism to Zoroastrianism: one should not do onto others what they would not want done to themselves. Maxwell believes that people need to have firm ethical principles guiding their personal lives and shaping their characters, and must translate this behavior into all other aspects of their lives as well.

Part of the beauty of the Golden Rule is its simplicity and universality. It applies to anyone, in any given circumstance. Maxwell explains how the rule is intuitively correct, since no one wishes to be treated worse than he treats others. By valuing others and treating others the way you want to be treated, everyone wins. The Golden Rule not only gives direction and guides business endeavors, but also builds character and helps one lead a more productive life. It is essential that ethical standards be absolute in order to foster a sense of integrity and responsibility.

Using numerous examples, Maxwell tries to convince the reader that adhering to the Golden Rule is a necessary component of success. He substantiates his point by showing how the long-lasting profitable companies do follow strong ethical standards. Synovus, for example, is ranked in the top ten of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in America and has had one of the highest stock returns on the New York Stock Exchange in the past two decades. In contrast, those that compromise on ethical standards often lose out on the long run, as exemplified by the Enron case. The company demanded that profits be shown every year by booking future revenue immediately, and thus needed to keep booking more deals each year to maintain gains.

The concentration on ethics in an organization needs to be genuine and not watered down. When companies implement business ethics courses solely for external purposes, to avoid or mitigate legal persecution, they are ineffective in establishing true integrity in the workplace. Maxwell also claims that five factors undermine the Golden Rule and can cause ethical violations: pressure, pleasure, power, pride, and priorities. He then suggests a rule that goes above and beyond the call of duty of the Golden Rule—the Platinum Rule. This principle obliges one to go the extra mile in dealing with others. Maxwell exemplifies the Platinum Rule with an occurrence during the 1964 Winter Olympic Games. Italy's driver for the two-man bobsled competition, Eugenio Monti, donated a bolt from his sled to Tony Nash of the competing British team, though it cost his team a medal.

Maxwell reiterates his underlying message at the end of the book. He writes, “Those who go for the Golden Rule not only have a chance to achieve monetary wealth, but also to receive other benefits that money can't buy.” Although slightly repetitive and simplistic, the book is direct and straightforward with a clear message. Since Maxwell includes a number of thought-provoking questions after each chapter providing the reader with a chance to reflect on the chapter's content and apply its principles, There's No Such Thing as “BusinessEthics might prove useful as a springboard for discussions of business ethics.