Published on Nov 22, 2022
Essays

Ethics still matter

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Companies can fail for the *right* reasons. They ran out of money. Didn’t build the right product. The founders got exhausted from running a startup. 

Sometimes companies fail for the wrong reasons. Fraudulent and unethical behavior are at the top of the list. Headlines from last week were a good reminder about how unethical people can dupe well meaning ones and cause spectacular failures (or imprisonment). On a smaller scale, I was recently exposed to a term sheet that was borderline disrespectful to the founder and made me wonder about the other party’s intentions. 

This got me thinking about ethics and its importance. It’s a foundational aspect of work that seems neglected. It doesn’t attract a lot of press coverage since it’s not super sexy and perhaps too obvious. Don’t cheat and steal, duh! Yet, I’ve often seen well meaning people often make the wrong decision – yours truly as well. 

Over time, it’s become obvious to me that following strong ethical principles is the only way of building long-term relationships at work. Trust is the most important currency and it can only be built over time. I jotted down a few non-obvious starting points that have been useful for me.

White lies are still lies.

I don’t like the term “white lies”. It justifies any act of deception. Uncomfortable truths should be shared, we are all adults and should be treated as such. Being completely transparent is a great default. The biggest benefit of not lying or twisting the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said to who. It makes life much easier.

 

Delivering what you promise.

“I’ll send you my availability next week.” 

“Sure, let’s explore working together”

I’ve written these knowing in advance that I wouldn’t follow through on them. Delivering what you say you will deliver is an important part of building trust. 

Complaining serves no purpose

Complaining or gossip fall in the bucket of a low value activity. It feels good in the moment yet is always a time waster. If you don’t like how someone spoke to you in a meeting, talk to them directly and address it rather than complaining. Their response will show how professional they are and if they respect you. 

 

Actions speak louder than words

You can talk about doing good in the world or you can actually take action. 

Many companies want to do ESG or become B-Corp certified which is a great first step. Yet too often, they neglect the logical next step which is about taking action. Talking about positive change without action is simply virtue signaling which erodes trust & credibility.  

Be selfish.

Doing the right thing is by its nature a selfish act. Not trying to constantly maximize one’s personal gain is the optimal way to maximize long-term gain. Building wealth and reputation is about seeking to make others win at the same time as you. So in that spirit, helping others is also a selfish act.  Besides, what’s the alternative? Trying to screw someone over for a deal? 

Reputations are all that matter. Be generously selfish.

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