Ethics seems to be a complicated subject for many. I define it simply as the “long view.” When I care about my workplace, my employer, my client, myself and others, when I think about my future, I choose the long view.
Many of us live in the past, but can we change the past? Of course not. Yet if you dream of the future all day long, you’ll never get anything done. We need dreamers, but a dream without execution is just smoke; it is vapor. We can affect the present. We can act in the present and this moment is where all the action takes place. What we do now, and how it will affect our future, is the key to a healthy, ethical perspective.
Like peering down a football field from the end zone, the long view knows that in each successive down we have an opportunity to score. By moving forward at each attempt, we reach our goal. Although we get sacked along the way or lose some yardage, we know there’s another chance. How we treat the others working with us, or even on the opposing team, is visible the next time we get the ball.
There’s another game, there’s another season. If we lived for just a four-year career it would be ugly. Imagine a society where no one cared about what happened tomorrow. That’s where, I fear, we are sliding.
When Rome collapsed it was because its residents stopped thinking about their future. There were no more goals to fulfill, just gluttony, oppression and a disregard for one another. When it rose it did so by incorporating people into the vision. (Well, certainly not all the people and few were equals, but you see what I’m talking about.)
So, if someone gouges you, taking maximum profit, will you go back to him? If someone fails you today or doesn’t meet your expectations, will you offer him your business a second time? Ethics in business means doing your best every time. Ethics in the workplace means proving yourself every time; not because anyone even sees it, but because of what it turns you into. When we don’t, what do we become? Promotions and opportunities happen, and studies prove that good guys finish last, but I’m not talking about being liked: I speak about doing all you can, each and every time. With a warrior spirit we can persevere and seek the higher goal, the long-range target, knowing that the journey is what defines us.
As scandal after scandal rocks the corporate world, or the international community, we see the profound affect it has on our economy, on the market and on our collective psyche. The idea of corporate self-governance, in light of Enron and Arthur Andersen, seems a joke.
It’s easy to say that a corporation is evil. it’s easy to think of an international conglomerate as an unchainable beast, but the reality is that corporations are made up of people. Only when our personal ethics retreat, only when we stop thinking about what our actions today will do to our future tomorrow, do we fall.
And when we fall it affects many people. It doesn’t just cascade; it’s like a dam that gives way and collapses under the weight of the river it once held back. When we trade in a life’s worth of work for the chance to make a quick buck, what are we doing? We’re forgetting our past, we’re ignoring our future.
If you don’t really care about the community in which you live, then why bother to think about the results of your behavior? Why be nice to the waitress if you’ll never return to the restaurant? My philosophy, and the way I live my life, reflects the commitment I have to our tomorrow. The long view means I’m going to be here tomorrow. It means my actions today set the stage for my future.
As you spend time at your job, you might think it doesn’t really matter. If I’m slack today, so what? The corporate world may allow us to hide out, but when we stop thinking about our future we miss out on an important truth. Every time we bend or slip we turn into something. I think people talk about a mid-life crisis because the changes take place so slowly. One day you wake up, and you don’t like what you see. The other side of the story is that every time we put our heart into our work, we change. Each effort we take on adds something. We can become what we are meant to be. When we adopt the long term perspective, we start to care about each other. We start to see that we are a part of something bigger.
We can achieve greatness, we can fulfill our potential. It just takes a steady gaze, peering through the long view.
Eric Needle is the President of Longbow Strategic Group.
His firm helps your business understand how it is positioned in the marketplace and then works to better promote you.