Profit-Based “Ethics”: The Mindset Behind It

Inside The Mindset of Profit-Based “Ethics”

If I interpret ethical leadership as profit-based, then I will make decisions that maximize profits. Sometimes those decisions may ignore the long-term consequences of my decisions and I may choose to cut corners now in order to increase short-term profits, without considering how that may affect others.

How the Mindset Impacts Day-to-Day Business Decisions 

How does a profitability mindset affect my decision-making? A cheaper ingredient, added in order to increase profits, may end up being identified as unhealthy or even cancerous. If my ethics are profitability-focused, then as long as it’s not illegal to use the ingredient right now, then I believe that I made a “good decision” to use it while I can  - until it is banned.

Getting Beyond Profit-Based Ethics

The trouble with using a profit-based definition of “ethics” is that by using profitability as a way to make decisions an entire spectrum of other issues is conveniently ignored. In order to avoid this trap and to move away from profit-based thinking, it’s important to broaden the variables we consider when making business decisions to include:

  • The impact of my products and services on consumers and society
  • The impact of my business operations on the planet
  • The long-term unintended consequences of my choices
  • The changing consumer mindset toward ethical business and avoiding harm
  • The erosion of customer confidence in my products, services and ethics

Linda Fisher Thornton is Owner of Leading in Context LLC. She is also Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Continuing Studies.


About Linda Fisher Thornton
Author of 7 Lenses, Speaker, Bringing Out the Best in People and Organizations Through Proactive Ethical Leadership, CEO Leading in Context, 2014 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior, Adj. Assist. Prof. of Ethics and Leadership, UR SPCS

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