Are you ethical?

ethics2One of the big mistakes we make is assuming that we see the world the same way, share the same values, ethics, and moral approach to life.

Don’t believe me? Here is an example that you can discuss with others. It is guaranteed to generate a lot of conversation and different opinions. I believe a story similar to this was first introduced in a book by Simon on Values Clarification, and was called Alligator River. Share it with your colleagues – their opinions may surprise you.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Abby who was married to a man who was away from home a lot because of his job. She felt very neglected and lonely. She met a man, Henry, and they had an affair. One night after she left his place and tried to cross the bridge to return home before her husband returned from one of his long trips. Unfortunately, the bridge was being barricaded by a madman who threatened to kill anyone who tried to cross. So she went to ask Sinbad, a riverboat captain, to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would be able to pay the $200.00 fee. She didn’t have $200.00 so she went back to Henry to ask him for the money. He refused to help. She then went to a friend, Ivan, and explained her plight. Ivan, disillusioned by her action, refused to give her the $200.00.

In a panic to return home before her husband returned, Abby decided to try to cross the bridge anyway, and the madman killed her. This is the story.

Rank each character according to who of the six was most responsible for the tragedy, until you have all six subjects (Abby, husband, Henry, Sinbad, Ivan and madman) in order of most morally reprehensible to least morally reprehensible.

You are likely to find that there is no consensus among your colleagues as who is the most blameworthy person in the story.

Too farfetched? Then here is a similar ethical issue for you to consider.

In Company X, the search for a replacement Director, due to a retirement, has come down to two internal managers, Audrey and Zeke. The President, Don, has asked the rest of the people in the Department to forward to him an anonymous and confidential assessment of the strengths and limitations of each candidate so that he can select the best person for the position.

ethicsThe group meets together privately and agrees that each one will write very positively about Audrey and be very blunt about Zeke’s failings. In their meeting, all of the 5 employees say they really want Audrey to be the successful candidate because some have had bad experiences with Zeke whom some see as a bully, a tyrant, and duplicitous.

Jonathan was silent about his real feelings during this meeting, but is very concerned about the group’s ganging up on Zeke. He has always found Zeke to be firm but fair and thinks that the group has been unduly influenced by Elizabeth who has a very poor relationship with Zeke. Elizabeth much prefers that Audrey be promoted since the two of them are good friends, and spend weekends together with their families camping.

Jonathan, therefore, goes to Zeke and tells him of the group’s plan to praise Audrey and harshly criticize him. He strongly suggests that Elizabeth has manipulated the group to go along with her wishes and sabotage Zeke`s appointment to the Director position. Zeke, very angry that Elizabeth would try to influence people against him, goes immediately to Don and demands that Elizabeth be fired because of her conniving and scheming.

Don, perceiving this as an act of disloyalty on the part of Elizabeth in attempting to sabotage a manager, fires Elizabeth.

Whose actions do you see as being the most reprehensible – Don, Jonathan, Elizabeth or Zeke?

You might be surprised at who doesn’t (or does) agree with your conclusions – and why.

It might be time for a review of ethical behaviour in your company – and again, (sadly) you might be surprised.