The only way we can develop muscle is through regular exercise. As soon as we stop stretching and working toward higher ethics, our standards start to sag. The muscle gets soft, and instead of excellence we have to settle for mediocrity. Maybe something even worse.
High personal standards aren't enough for organizational excellence. You've got to be intolerant of low standards in others. . . . If you accommodate questionable practices in others who touch your organization, you risk soiling its reputation. Anybody whose hands aren't clean can get the place dirty.
When you can make it this simple, though, just do the right thing. Even if you could get away with less. Even when other people are doing the wrong thing. Even though the wrong thing seems like no big deal.
The ethics of excellence require a sense of perspective. Look at the big picture. If you live for the moment, do you mortgage the future? What happens if you put your reputation at risk . . . and lose the bet?
Give people, including yourself, clear permission to make mistakes . . . and to fix the problems. Since nobody's perfect, mistakes should be allowed. Cover-ups shouldn't. Cover-ups create twice the trouble.
We all faced painful ethical challenges before we even knew how to spell our names. There were tough choices. Tradeoffs. Confusing signals regarding how to live one's life. And here we are now, today, still struggling. Still trying to sort things out. Still trying to work our way through life effectively. About the only thing that has changed is the scope of the problem. There's more at stake now. And we're in a position, as grownups, to do a lot more-good or bad-for ourselves, our organization, our world. But we still must wrestle with our imperfect ethics.