But when we get enough people who don't care, and who don't accept personal responsibility for high ethical standards, our organization gets the "M" disease. Mediocrity. Anybody in the place can be a carrier. By the same token, every individual can carry the cure: the ethics of excellence.
The legal system doesn't always serve as a good guide for your conscience. You can step way over the ethical line and still be inside the law. The same thing goes for rules, policies and procedures - you know, the organization's "internal laws." You can "go by the book" and still behave unethically. Still not move beyond mediocrity. High standards-the ethics of excellence-come to life through your basic values, your character, integrity and honesty. Obeying the law is the bare minimum.
Eventually we have to "settle up" and pay the price for our ethical violations. Just remember the old line that says, "You can pay me now . . . or you can pay me later." Often you can buy some time, but when you "pay later" you'll probably have to pay more.
"You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by-"* You'll find universal agreement on the value of a behavior code, on the need for some sort of ethical system. Even the crooks count on "honor among thieves," and countries actually wage war according to certain rules. On the job and in the rest of our day-to-day living, we each need a "code for the road." *Crosby, Stills & Nash in a hit song.
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.
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?
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.
Pay attention to the voice within. . . . Sometimes the voice of your conscience gets drowned out by crowd noise or by the pep rally of temptations. And your mind may put some selfish spin on the ball, rationalizing that it's okay to veer away from the ethical route. When we run into conflicts between ethical "shoulds" and our selfish "wants," we all argure out ways to con our conscience. But take pains to listen, because it has your best interests at heart.