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Center Street
Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know

Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know

by John C. Maxwell


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Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know

Bestselling author John C. Maxwell shows you how the Golden Rule works everywhere, and how, especially in business, it brings amazing dividends.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446578097
Publisher: Center Street
Publication date: 05/11/2005
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 138,982
Product dimensions: 4.75(w) x 6.62(h) x 0.62(d)

About the Author

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 24 million books in fifty languages. Often called America's #1 leadership authority, Maxwell was Identified as the most popular leadership expert in the world by Inc. magazine in 2014. And he has been voted the top leadership professional six years in a row on He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, and EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 180 countries. Each year Maxwell speaks to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world's top business leaders. He can be followed at For more information about him visit

Read an Excerpt

Ethics 101

By John C. Maxwell

Center Street

Copyright © 2003 John C. Maxwell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-57809-6

Chapter One

Whatever Happened to Business Ethics?

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF ETHICS IN BUSINESS today? Wonderful? Rock solid? No, I think most people are disgusted with it. They are sick of dishonesty and unethical dealings.

What is your reaction to the following names: Enron, Dennis Kozlowski, WorldCom, Adelphia Communications? At the least, it's probably a feeling of unsettledness. If you owned stock affected by the ethical scandals associated with these names, you are probably outraged!

UC Berkeley accounting professor Brett Trueman, who teaches at the Haas School of Business, remarked, "This is why the market keeps going down every day-investors don't know who to trust. As these things come out, it just continues to build."

Of course, the ethical problems we're seeing aren't limited to just the business world. The public was horrified by the recently revealed abuses that occurred in the Catholic Church and how the incidents were covered up. Many were surprised by reports that Pulitzer prize-winning history professor Stephen Ambrose had plagiarized passages from historian Thomas Childers for his book The Wild Blue. And those who watched the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City were outraged when a figure-skating judge claimed that her decision had been coerced, altering the outcome of the pairs competition. Ethical lapses are everywhere.

When pollster George Barna asked people whether they had "complete confidence" that leaders from various professions would "consistently make job-related decisions that are morally appropriate," the results were abysmal:

Type of Leader / Percent Who Hold the Public's Complete Confidence

Executives of Large Corporations 3%

Elected Government Officials 3%

Film & TV Producers, Directors & Writers 3%

News Reporters & Journalists 5%

Small Business Owners 8%

Ministers, Priests & Clergy 11%

Teachers 14%

It's revealing that even regarding the most trusted leaders (teachers), six out of seven people are unwilling to give them their complete trust.


Our disgust is now turning to discussion. People want to know: Why is ethics in such a terrible state? Although there are many possible responses to that question, I believe when people make unethical choices, they do so for one of three reasons:

1. We Do What's Most Convenient

An ethical dilemma can be defined as an undesirable or unpleasant choice relating to a moral principle or practice. What do we do in such situations? Do we do the easy thing or the right thing? For example, what should I do when a clerk gives me too much change? What should I say when a convenient lie can cover a mistake? How far should I go in my promises to win a client?


As human beings, we seem prone to failing personal ethics tests. Why do we do something even when we know it's wrong? Do we cheat because we think we won't get caught? Do we give ourselves permission to cut corners because we rationalize that it's just one time? Is this our way of dealing with pressure?

2. We Do What We Must to Win

I think most people are like me: I hate losing! Businesspeople in particular desire to win through achievement and success. But many think they have to choose between being ethical and winning. The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that a group of executives came together recently at a leading company in Atlanta to brainstorm ideas for a three-day national conference to be attended by several thousand sales employees. As the team shared ideas for different sessions, a senior vice president of the corporation enthusiastically suggested, "Why don't we do a piece on ethics?"

It was as if someone had died. The room went silent. An awkward moment later, the discussion continued as if the vice president had never uttered a word. She was so taken aback by everyone's reaction, she simply let the idea drop. Later that day, she happened to run into the company's CEO. She recounted to him her belief that the subject of ethics should be addressed at the conference. She expected him to agree wholeheartedly. Instead he replied, "I'm sure everyone agrees that's an important issue. But there's a time and a place for everything. The sales meeting is supposed to be upbeat and motivational. And ethics is such a negative subject."

That CEO isn't alone in his opinion of ethics. Many people believe that embracing ethics would limit their options, their opportunities, their very ability to succeed in business. It's the old suspicion that good guys finish last. They agree with Harvard history professor Henry Adams, who stated, "Morality is a private and costly luxury." Ironically, in today's culture of high debt and me-first living, ethics may be the only luxury some people are choosing to live without! If I believe that I have only two choices: (1) to win by doing whatever it takes, even if it's unethical; or (2) to have ethics and lose-I'm faced with a real moral dilemma. Few people set out with the desire to be dishonest, but nobody wants to lose.


3. We Rationalize Our Choices with Relativism

Many people choose to deal with such no-win situations by deciding what's right in the moment, according to their circumstances. That's an idea that gained legitimacy in the early 1960s when Dr. Joseph Fletcher, dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in Cincinnati, Ohio, published a book called Situation Ethics. In it he said that love was the only viable standard for determining right from wrong. The Executive Leadership Foundation states,

According to Fletcher, right is determined by the situation, and love can justify anything-lying, cheating, stealing ... even murder. This philosophy spread rapidly throughout the theological and educational worlds.... Since the 1960s, situational ethics has become the norm for social behavior. After spreading rapidly through the worlds of education, religion, and government, it has penetrated a new area-the business world. The result is our ethical situation today.

The result is ethical chaos. Everyone has his own standards, which change from situation to situation. And that stance is encouraged. A course entitled "The Ethics of Corporate Management," offered at the University of Michigan, says in its description, "This course is not concerned with the personal moral issues of honesty and truthfulness. It is assumed that the students at this university have already formed their own standards on these issues."

So whatever anyone wants to use as the standard is okay. Making matters worse is people's natural inclination to be easy on themselves, judging themselves according to their good intentions-while holding others to a higher standard and judging them by their worst actions. Where once our decisions were based on ethics, now ethics are based on our decisions. If it's good for me, then it's good. Where is this trend likely to end?


Fortunately, there is an increasing desire for ethical dealing in business. Executive recruiters Heidrick and Struggles state, "In a new era for business, CEOs face a new mandate. Glamour and glitz are out. Transparency-in terms of ethics, values, and goals-is in." My friend Bruce Dingman, president of management consulting firm R. W. Dingman, agrees. He recently sent me an e-mail:

Thought you might like to know what we are seeing in the marketplace. Changes in corporate values or strategies are often reflected in what our clients tell us they now seek in candidates.... Yes, they still want key executives who can make the company money, are willing to make tough decisions, and fit the management team, but now there is a stronger concern for integrity, not playing it quite as close to the edge, and taking a somewhat longer view in strategies and the setting of more realistic, more conservative goals.

And Jeremy Farmer, a seasoned recruiter at Bank One in Chicago, says that he and his colleagues are taking ethics into greater account when looking for potential employees: "We're asking the ethics-type questions, and we're doing behavioral interviewing."

It's good to know that there is a desire for change regarding ethics in our culture. The bad news is that most people don't know how to make that transition. Their situation is like that of a group of passengers in a corny joke I heard many years ago. The people were on an airplane during a cross-country flight. About two hours into their journey they heard a voice say over the loudspeaker, "This is your pilot. We are currently cruising at 35,000 feet at an air speed of 700 knots. We have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is we're lost. The good news is we're making excellent time."

If you look at what's happening in the marketplace, you'll see that even though we desire honesty and plain dealing, we're still not winning the battle of ethics. Take a look at how people in our culture are currently trying to address the problem. They ...

Outsource Ethics Instruction

According to Joan Ryan, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, companies are hiring firms to offer on-line ethics classes and engaging consultants to produce huge ethics manuals that Ryan says "often read like tax codes, complete with loopholes and fine print." It's not helping. Worst of all, the desire of such companies often isn't to make their businesses more ethical. Ryan states, "It's about evading punishment. Under federal guidelines, companies that have ethics programs are eligible for reduced fines if convicted of wrongdoing."

Perform an Ethical Flea Dip

Another approach is to "treat" ethical offenders when caught. Management consultant Frank J. Navran calls that an "ethical flea dip." The problem with this approach is that it is as effective as a flea dip when a dog's environment isn't changed. The fleas come right back. If the environment- the systems and goals-of an organization encourage and reward unethical behavior, then merely addressing individual employees' actions will not improve the situation.

Rely on the Law

Some companies have given up entirely on trying to figure out what's ethical and are instead using what's legal as their standard for decision making. The result is moral bankruptcy. When Kevin Rollins, president of the Dell Computer Corporation, was asked about the role of ethics in business, he paraphrased Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who said, "I've lived my life in a society where there was no rule of law. And that's a terrible existence. But a society where the rule of law is the only standard of ethical behavior is equally bad." Rollins asserts, "Solzhenitsyn said that if the United States only aspires to a legal standard of moral excellence, we will have missed the point. Man can do better. I thought that was a nice comment on the ethics of companies that say, 'Well, legally, it was just fine. 'We believe you have to aspire to something higher than what's legal. Is what you're doing right?"


One of our problems is that ethics is never a business issue or a social issue or a political issue. It is always a personal issue. People say they want integrity. But at the same time, ironically, studies indicate that the majority of people don't always act with the kind of integrity they request from others.

Among college students, 84 percent believe the United States is experiencing a business crisis, and 77 percent believe CEOs should be held responsible for it. However, 59 percent of those same students admit to having cheated on a test. In the workplace, 43 percent of people admit to having engaged in at least one unethical act in the last year, and 75 percent have observed such an act and done nothing about it.

The same person who cheats on his taxes or steals office supplies wants honesty and integrity from the corporation whose stock he buys, the politician he votes for, and the client he deals with in his own business.

It's easy to discuss ethics and even easier to be disgusted with people who fail the ethics test-especially when we have been violated by the wrongdoing of others. It's harder to make ethical choices in our own lives. When we are faced with unpleasant choices, what are we going to do? In the 1980s, former President Ronald Reagan quipped that when it comes to the economy, it's a recession when your neighbor loses his job, but it's a depression when you lose yours! Ethics is similar. It's always harder when I'm the one having to make the choice.


I want to be ethical, and I believe that you do too. Furthermore, I know it really is possible to do what's right and succeed in business. In fact, according to the Ethics Resource Center in Washington, D.C., companies that are dedicated to doing the right thing, have a written commitment to social responsibility, and act on it consistently are more profitable than those who don't. James Burke, chairman of Johnson and Johnson, says, "If you invested $30,000 in a composite of the Dow Jones thirty years ago, it would be worth $134,000 today. If you had put that $30,000 into these [socially and ethically responsible] firms-$2,000 into each of the fifteen [in the study]-it would now be worth over $1 million."


If you embrace ethical behavior, will it automatically make you rich and successful? Of course not. Can it pave the way for you to become successful? Absolutely! Ethics + Competence is a winning equation. In contrast, people who continually attempt to test the edge of ethics inevitably go over that edge. Shortcuts never pay off in the long run. It may be possible to fool people for a season, but in the long haul, their deeds will catch up with them because the truth does come out. In the short term, behaving ethically may look like a loss (just as one can temporarily appear to win by being unethical). However, in the long term, people always lose when they live without ethics.


Excerpted from Ethics 101 by John C. Maxwell Copyright © 2003 by John C. Maxwell . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
JPM2010 More than 1 year ago
Everyone needs to read this book. It is good for not just leaders but for everyone. It has excellent advice for everyone in all aspects of life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Author John C. Maxwell has spent years thinking about leadership and ethical action, and it shows. In this short volume, he condenses his years of reflection into clear, accessible principles that any reader can immediately apply. He supports his points with anecdotes, and with quotes from sacred texts and authors from a variety of cultures. His clarity makes his work bold. There¿s no way you could mistake what he¿s saying, and that¿s refreshing, especially given contemporary concerns about corporate governance. While the simplicity and brevity of the book makes it broadly accessible, we especially recommend it to two readerships: those already dedicated to living ethically, who are looking for tools to apply, and those who are skeptical about the utility of ethics. The book (which was previously published as ¿There¿s No Such Thing as Business Ethics¿) has only two real weaknesses. The first is that Maxwell¿s definition of an ethical dilemma is far too simple, and he treats it too briefly. (What do we do when love and duty clash? What do we do when directly ordered to do something unethical by a superior, who thinks the action is correct - and someone else depends upon our income?) The second is that Maxwell discusses how to treat others as if we were all the same deep down. Perhaps we are - but he doesn¿t fully address the many personal and cultural differences that one must negotiate along the way. Our moral dilemma: is it right to dwell on such relatively minor flaws in a book we basically respect, agree with, appreciate and recommend warmly? You be the judge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks back to ethics..
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Hello." *i say quietly*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Swings onto his horse and grunts slightly. "I might be getting to old for this." He mutters. His horse snickers. "Oh be quite." He sighs and rolls his eyes before riding away.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hemera Cabin
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have taught philosophy and business ethics for many years at various universities, and naturally, I am always looking for good assigned reading that challenges students to think outside the box of my lectures, and to give serious consideration to matters of ethics and morals in both their personal lives, and how their lives extend to others in all contexts. Since I also was associated with the Wesleyan church that Maxwell pastured years ago, when I saw this title featured, I wanted to see if his book would add to my students¿ knowledge base and life application. Unfortunately, what I found was either a shallow presentation of familiar themes he used to preach on Sunday morning, or the reworking of material that has already been out there in one form or another. In short, 'Ethics 101' is really Ethics 001, that provides the reader with little foundation in ethics and morals. Dr. Maxwell is not an academic (he has a ministry doctorate), nor does he take any academic approach in his book. In fact, he thinks philosophy has ¿confused¿ ethics when, in fact, because Maxwell has no philosophical background, he brings little to the debate. Unfortunately, Maxwell's book confuses Ethics. How does he know that philosophy confuses a particular issue when he does not know philosophy? In truth, the history of Western Civilization, has produced libraries of clear information concerning ethics and morals, but you won¿t find (as you cannot find) any of that here. Ethics goes far beyond the Golden Rule model, reaching back to Plato (The Republic, etc.) and Aristotle (The Politics Ethics), down to Cicero (45 BC) who wrote one of the best, and clearest, works on ethics titled, ¿Duties.¿ Most of my lectures consist of footnotes to Plato, then Aristotle, and then demonstrates how those principles were worked out by the Romans in Cicero and others. There is no doubt that both Jesus and Paul had access to these three writers, and it is impossible to read Jesus and not see the influence of Cicero. I am personally put off that Maxwell has distain for philosophy, given that the Golden Rule is prima facie, philosophy, and is a repeated maxim from earlier philosophers. The honest reality is that philosophy is everywhere and is embodied in every idea good or bad, business advertisement, magazine, television and feature film, and even in Maxwell¿s sermons and the goofy (and gratituously violent) 'Left Behind' book series by LaHaye and Jenkins. I can read any of Maxwell¿s books and remember when much of the material was, at one time or another, a sermon in his Wesleyan church. Now Maxwell is hailed as a ¿leadership¿ guru, writing books and speaking about 'leadership.' While this may fly on the motivational circuit, it brings little to any thing of value to the intellectual debate. If you are serious about wanting to learn about ethics, read Plato¿s 'Republic', Aristotle¿s 'Ethics', the 'Duties' of Cicero, then the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule. For a deeper understanding of ethical theories which Maxwell never bothers to mention (because he doesn't know), read Shaw and Berry: Moral Issues in Business. If you must purchase Maxwell¿s book, buy it used. Since yesterday alone, two more may be found used for a few bucks on this site. I give 'Ethics 101' a whole single Star as one¿s review cannot be posted without at least one star. Judge for yourself. Stephen Gruber, Ph.D., Prof. Philosophy and History.