Remember Ethics

Importance of Ethics in Business

by Aug 3, 2021Business, Culture, Leadership, Strategy

Long-term success in business is not about cutting corners and short-term gains

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is one of the bestselling business books of all time. Some of the key takeaways are life lessons like never saying a bad word about other people, giving others a high reputation to live up to, and ask lots of questions, and listening to the answers. If you heeded these, you could get along with anyone and, just as importantly, they would never forget you.

I can tell you from personal experience applying that he was right. I would also add another critical factor that will help you always stand out in a crowd: be ethical.

Ethics Defined

One of my favorite definitions of “ethics” is that it’s what you do when no one else is watching, including the hidden cameras. In other words, when you’re faced with different situations at work, how do you act?

I think Hollywood has helped paint the picture that businesspeople lack ethics. That the whole idea of being in business is to get ahead and do whatever you have to do, bending whatever laws or regulations you need to win.

But in my personal experience, I’ve found the opposite is true. That the people who worked outside of ethical lines might have found some short-term gains. But, in the long run, they finished last, especially if they were trying to build a business or a long-term career.

I remember one CEO I worked for early in my career who had a glitzy resume filled with a big-name university and brand names he had worked with. He was also one of the most unethical people I have ever met. Every chance he got, whether that was negotiating a contract with a customer or even paying taxes, he was always looking to push or even go beyond the edge of what was legal. In his mind, he was either going to be first–or last. Maybe it wasn’t surprising that when I knew him, he was also on his fourth wife and his kids didn’t really like him.

I still remember this guy like it was yesterday. And you know what? I left that company as soon as I could. I wanted no part of working with someone like that for fear it might rub off on me. And I wasn’t alone. That’s the importance of ethics in business. Not only could you drive customers away, but partners as well.

Walking The Walk

If you want to be remembered for the right things and to be considered an ethical person, you must walk the walk.

Case in point: Later in my career, shortly after I joined a new company as CEO, I received a package in the mail from an anonymous sender. Inside was a whole folder of secret material from our arch-competitor, including customer names, sales funnels with bids, and price lists. This was a gold mine of competitive data that we could have used to give us an incredible edge in the market. So, what did I do? I bundled everything up and mailed it to the CEO of my competitor. I then called him up to let him know what I had done while also letting him know that he likely had a disgruntled employee who had sent that information over. And that was the end of it.

Or at least I thought it was. Five years later, I ran into that CEO at a trade show. It was the first time we had ever met in person. When we shook hands, he turned to his associate and said about me: “This is one of the ethical guys in the industry.” He clearly remembered me and what I had done and found it remarkable.  I suppose the depressing thing was that he didn’t consider it completely normal.

Interestingly, I later bought that business–which might never have happened if I hadn’t done the right thing years earlier.

Playing The Long Game

So, while Hollywood may tell us that the way businesspeople get ahead is by cutting corners and acting unethically, the opposite is actually true. Just ask any top salesperson. Anyone who wants to build a long and profitable sales career recognizes that you do that by building long-term relationships built on trust, not by cheating anyone for short-term gain. Great salespeople, as well as great CEOs, recognize that it’s only by acting ethically and doing the right thing that you can truly profit in the future.

So, if you want to be remembered as someone people like to do business with, act ethically. That will always pay off in the long run.