Every Decision Changes The Ethical Culture Equation

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethics has a compounding effect on culture, and our leadership choices determine whether that effect will be positive or negative. Being diligent about ethics in every decision brings the culture ethics dividends. Being careless about ethics brings ethics penalties.

The tricky part about managing ethical culture is that every leader decision and action throughout the organization is changing the equation. The culture equation is changing in real time, every day. 

Take a look at this hypothetical scenario that demonstrates the importance of one choice:

Every Decision Changes The “Ethical Culture Equation”

Ethics Dividends

+1 Make ethics a priority

+1 Discuss the personal, legal, interpersonal, societal and planetary aspects of doing the right thing

+1 Generate an ongoing dialogue about ethical grey areas

+1 Prepare people to make good choices

+1 Build ethics into training. employee development and coaching

+1 Screen for ethics when hiring

Ethics Penalties

-6 Promote a leader who gets good results but is interpersonally toxic  (This simple mistake disengages the 6 positive messages above and the culture dividends you would have reaped from them)

If we overlook ethics when we make even one people decision, we may “actively undo” many of the positive culture-building actions we’ve taken. All it takes is one short-sighted leadership decision to weaken the organization’s ethical performance system and send the message that “ethics matters, except for this time.” 

The ethical equation has to be consistently positive to help prevent ethical problems. We must actively demonstrate the ethical values that we say are important. Every time. Without Fail. Period.


Join Me For: “Building an Ethical Culture: What to Cultivate and What to Weed Out”  on 2/27/17 via Compliance IQ. 





Learn To See Through All 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility

Includes case examples and questions.




Click the book cover for a preview.







Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership®

©2017 Leading in Context LLC


1 comment

  1. Linda, I particularly like your ethics equation and the minus points for promoting a toxic employee. Perhaps the biggest problem with ethics training and assessment, however, is the fact that there are at least a dozen separate ethical perspectives that each call out a different and justifiable ethical voice. As a result we all tend to say, “I am ethical” but we often have differing standards as to the philosophical rationale for our ethical assumptions.


Join the Conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: