Unethical behavior can spread, speaker says
Former Air Force officer says it's vital to watch for lapses in the workplace
When someone considered the least likely to behave poorly commits a great ethical failure, the reason is often a simple one.
“It's just what is inside them,” said Tracey Jones.
Jones, a former Air Force officer and Gulf War veteran, is an author and president of Tremendous Life Books.
Jones was the keynote speaker Tuesday at an Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium luncheon, where she discussed tips for making ethical decisions and the importance of surrounding oneself with the right people both in personal and work life.
“In this day and age, ethics is an integral part of excellence,” Jones said. “I hear a lot of great organizations that really talk the talk about having great people, … but from an ethics perspective, they're not walking the walk.”
In fact, people are so often let down by those in leadership positions that it shouldn't be surprising anymore, Jones said.
Instead of being surprised or letting another person's actions tear down an organization, people should take steps to improve their critical thinking and decision making and create a virtuous circle.
The majority of ethical decisions in day-to-day life are gray-area decisions where there is no right and wrong in a legal sense, but there is a decision that just isn't right.
“With ethical decision making, it's not just about the best thing to do but about the right thing to do,” Jones said.
She used the example of the subprime mortgage crisis that resulted from loans in which people making $30,000 a year were given $300,000 home loans by people who likely thought they were making the best decision.
“How is that the right thing to do? Their temporary gain was more important than people's long-term pain,” she said. “Ethics isn't just about what you're getting now but what, in the big picture, thing to do.”
Ethical companies are built around people who serve the institution over the ego.
By the time unethical behavior by someone in an agency is noticed, it typically isn't the first time they've behaved or acted in that manner, Jones said.
That's why it's important to watch for character malformations and cut them out when they are discovered.
“The problem with character malformations is they don't go away. They're like a cancer, and they'll metastasize in the organization,” she said.