Ethics and management | SkyHiNews.com
John Riddell

Back to: News

Ethics and management

John Ridell writes a business column and a fun, Zoomer-Boomer outdoor column for the Sky-Hi News.

A recent conversation with a colleague centered on the subjects of Leadership and Management and the difference between the two. Simply put, Leadership is about "doing what is right" whereas Management has more of a flavor of "doing the right (correct) thing." In this day and age of increased competition, every entrepreneurial/small business manager would do well to think in these terms maybe even expanding it to "doing the rights things right" and then add "the first time."

Now this simple "doing the right things right the first time" phrase is not always so easy to implement given its ethical and mechanical components. It has always been my opinion that the most important component of this sentiment is the ethical portion and it is this ethical portion which is probably the easiest to "know." Notice I did not say "easiest to implement." Suffice it to say that the vast majority of us have an adequate enough moral compass to intuitively know when a pending action "steps across the line." The more difficult part is not giving in to the self rationalization that most of us also possess. A weakening of the ethical position can have dire consequences for the individual and the firm.

Contrast this with the mechanical component of knowing what to do the correct way. A simple example might be in the mechanics of "T" accounts from basic accounting and how to record debits or credits. While there is no morality issue at stake, a significant material mistake could also spell dire financial consequences for an organization.

So now we have ethical failures leading to dire consequences and we have managerial mistakes leading to dire consequences. To a casual observer, this might indicate that businesses are expected to operate in an atmosphere of infallibility, with terminal bankruptcy being the lot of all but a chosen few. This obviously is not the case, but sometimes not quite so obvious is the reason why.

So now we have ethical failures leading to dire consequences and we have managerial mistakes leading to dire consequences. To a casual observer, this might indicate that businesses are expected to operate in an atmosphere of infallibility, with terminal bankruptcy being the lot of all but a chosen few.

We can always "repair" mechanical problems. While none of us like the associated inefficiencies of such a process, the simple fact is that if you try enough things, enough times, a mistake is going to occur. Said differently, mistakes for the right reasons are a needed part of every business's success and are sometimes viewed as part and parcel of a competitive advantage in a learning curve. To get where you are, your competitors will probably have to go through similar mistakes and costly inefficiencies. You are just really ahead from a time perspective.

Contrast this with ethical transgressions. There are no learning curve benefits of sustainable competitive advantage. Your gain is only as solid as the inability to unravel the complexity of the transgression. And as we learned from every unraveled mess, only as secure as the unethical compliance of everyone involved.

So the message for entrepreneurial managers is you will make mistakes. But try to limit them, never make the same one twice, and always make them with the right intentions. You'll sleep better at night.