Sure, your mission statement is a thing to behold, with the potential to light up the world. But it isn’t the Mona Lisa. You can print it out in fancy fonts, frame it up, and hang it. It’s still not a work of art unless it inspires you to embrace the art of working and living ethically. Your code of ethics—the moral standards you use to relate to the world—bridges the distance between listing your ideals and living them. Ethical living, consistently choosing to do what’s right, is its own reward.
You’re being watched
Put aside for a moment the nanotechnology that makes cameras the size of pushpins. Look around. The people who report to you are watching your every move. Our natural competitive impulse finds us keeping an eye on one another.
You’ll know it
Some people fold themselves into logic pretzels to justify dubious decisions. But deep down, where the best part of their lives, they know better.
On those rare occasions when I did compromise, my conscience wound up costing me, often in subtle ways—I wasn’t fully present around others, or the lump in my stomach wouldn’t go away. That led to polluted thinking and bad decisions. “Guilty feet have no rhythm,” as the song goes.
You’re gambling with your good name
When news broke that Arthur Andersen had shredded Enron documents and committed other crimes and misdemeanors, the Big Six accounting firm’s reputation was tarnished for good. It wasn’t long ago that the overnight collapse of a global Goliath was unimaginable. Now there are days when the business section of the newspaper reads like a rap sheet.
We live in a transparent age. Corporations have glass walls. Disgruntled employees can e-mail incriminating documents faster than you can say, “Not guilty, you’re Honor.” If you bend the rules even once, you’re asking for trouble. The same goes for your personal life. After the sale of Tires Plus to Bridgestone/Firestone was made public, I received an unsolicited call from a well-known accounting firm that I had never engaged. They told me I could save several million dollars in taxes by setting up an offshore account. But they added, while the loophole was legally defensible and wasn’t likely to ever face a court challenge, it wasn’t for the faint of heart.
I do feel it’s important to pay my share to recognize the opportunities that this country gave me to earn a good living. When I hear “offshore,” I walk the other way. I’ve worked too hard for too long to run the risk of staining my reputation. It’s not a question of faint-heartedness; it’s a matter of right-heartedness. The dollar amount was irrelevant. You can’t put a price tag on a good night’s sleep, or a good family name.