Integrity Matters
June 2nd, 2004

Business, ethics will always go together

Question: (E-119)

Dear Jim:

Will adding ethics courses to the studies of those pursuing business degrees, undergraduate or graduate level, make a difference in how executives operate?


Probably not! The teaching of business ethics can too easily become self-defeating. Think about the concept. There is no legitimate separation between sound business practices and integrity. Good business means providing high-quality products and customer service, paying what was promised in a timely way and treating all with respect. An overwhelming percentage of people operate this way or the entire economic system would grind to a halt.

If the academic courses do little more than wallpaper over the cracks in our "integrity-challenged" social structure, then irresponsible behaviors will go on, only with a more pleasant appearance. Honest leaders would be honest without any classes on integrity. Integrity is an operational process that must not be treated superficially. Coming into vogue is the latest "instant solution" -- business ethics classes and governance seminars. One-dimensional responses in this era of the "quick fix" appear to be little more than an "ethics" Band-Aid. Simply learning new words and phrases to create an image of honesty and integrity is superficial, literally and figuratively.

On the other hand, substantive engagement with real (ethical) issues in conjunction with the instructive insights of constructive role models can affect behavior positively. It will take more than new words and windows in offices to correct horrible business practices. Leading discussions in classrooms about ethical and socially responsible behaviors cannot take the place of what must be learned at the knees of parents: right from wrong. Conducting conferences involving successful (translate as wealthy, powerful and well-positioned) executives does not replace demanding and fair role models for young people, beginning at home and including adults with whom they come in contact: teachers, coaches, counselors, drill sergeants and mentors.

By the time students are ready to pursue either college-level or graduate studies, they have pretty much made up their minds about what works for them. They know how they intend to treat customers, employees, investors, suppliers, competitors and the members of the communities in which they live. Those who will violate ethical principles remember the movie "Wall Street" and have adopted the expression "greed is good" because it resonates with their admiration for the "tigers of the '90s" who amassed wealth, ignoring integrity-centered behaviors and selfishly seeking personal gain. Many will write the "politically correct" answers on their exams, secretly believing that the ends justify the means. A seminar is unlikely to reform their attitudes.

Home Page | About Us | Ask Bracher | Services | Resources | Contact Us

©Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership. All Rights Reserved.
1400 Munras Avenue ~ Monterey, California 93940