Ethics, Character, and Integrity


Ethics, Character, and Integrity

The essence of the whole person is character, for it is character that gives a person “wholeness,” that is, integrity. Character is composed of such virtues as honesty, which points the way to the ethical standards that enable a person to live a moral life. As mentioned here and in previous chapters, honesty is a primary ethical standard for any person in business, as is a commitment to the Golden Rule, because these standards create the climate of trust required for lasting business relationships.

The other character virtue central to enduring success is humility. In his interview, Jacobsen articulated the connection between humility, strong ethical values, and lasting business success: “My experience in business—I mean, my partner says, ‘Always sell short on arrogance.’ We have guys show up in the conference room, and I mean it isn’t a very fancy conference room, and they’re wearing— they[’ve] got the expensive briefcase and the Rolex watch and the gold chains around the neck, and they flew in on a Lear jet, and you just put them on the shelf and wait your time and you’re going to see that they’re going to go up in smoke. . . . The people that I’ve seen [who] have really lasted tend to just be built on strong values.”

The connectedness of ethical values, character, and purpose argues for a fully integrated rather than a compartmentalized approach to business and life. For educators who would promote high ethical standards in the men and women who go into business, the message is clear: you must emphasize matters of ultimate concern that drive people’s noblest purposes and define all our ethical values. For an enlightened vision of success, these will be moral concerns, aimed at service to the world as well as to the self.

For those who choose business as their career—or, more to the point, as their calling—the challenge is to sustain an ethical life amid constant pressures to compromise and sell out. If you see this as a new challenge every time a new pressure arises, you will be certain to fall short of your goal. The pressures are too relentless and the temptations too alluring. You must keep your eye on the ball. And what is the ball? It is, once again, the whole person, the kind of person that you want to be, considered in all its aspects, now and in the future. What kinds of relationships do you wish to have with the people in your life? What contributions do you hope to make to the world in your lifetime? What is the way you wish to be remembered, the part of you that you will leave behind? What is the true source of your deepest satisfaction, and how can you keep aiming at it over the long haul?

For many businesspeople, the quest begins with finding purpose in the work that they do and then achieving success in an honorable manner. But it does not end there. Once success is gained, many believe that is important to “give back” to the society that supported their work. More than 80 percent of the business leaders in our study said that they were heavily involved in philanthropic giving. Dickie Sykes, the construction company executive mentioned earlier, spoke for many when she summed up the links between her vision of the person she wants to be, her career aspirations, and her desire to “give back” through philanthropy: “I’m a philanthropist at heart. That’s the core of who I am. When seeking out a career, for me personally, it was never about how much money I could make. I mean everyone wants to make a decent salary in life. Let’s face it, you have to pay bills. But to me it has to be integrated with something that gives back to mankind, something that helps people . . . because that’s who I am and that’s what makes me feel good about who I am, just simply being a human being. So it fulfills my own internal philosophy on what I think should be done in society at large.”

Philanthropy, like business, can be a noble enterprise. But—and this may come as a surprise—it also shares some of the moral hazards of business, despite its charitable intentions. Because so many people in business see philanthropy as the capstone to a moral business life, I have dedicated Chapter 6 to an examination of the opportunities and pitfalls of philanthropic giving.