Leading your Business with a Strong Moral Compass

In all civilizations people intuitively understand what is meant by “common decency and good citizenship”, and as leaders in business, we define ourselves and are in turn defined by our principles and responsibilities. An erosion of core values threatens both business and society at large. The pressures to survive in this economy grow daily, given the array of complex, conflicting economic and political forces. If we have no rigidly defined values, these pressures make it easy to stray off the straight and narrow path of ethical decision making.

Based on my many years as a business owner, I have discovered that the distinguishing quality of integrity is at the top of the list and most influential in regard to the success of a business. A company will assume the values and ethics of its leaders, which is expressed through their behaviors with their employees, customers and competitors. Leadership that is made visible through actions, commitment, and examples,  sets the moral tone that emanates from the top of a company to behavior expected from all persons acting on behalf of a company and becomes the culture or personality of the business.

Having a business leader with a strong moral compass is essential; such leadership requires a great deal of personal commitment, courage, and perseverance that is guided by strong ethical values. When business integrity and moral ethics are present throughout the deepest layers of a company and not just at its surface, it becomes the heart and soul of the company’s culture and can mean the difference between a company that succeeds and a company that falters. Your moral compass establishes a tone that resounds throughout an organization and is at the base of a successful business.

A compass is a relatively simple instrument based on a simple concept. With its northward facing needle, it is a consistent and true indicator of physical direction. By placing “moral” in front of compass, we evoke a clear picture of mental processes that point a person in a particular direction in life. These processes are consistent and true indicators upon which personal belief and action can be based.

“A moral compass can only point you in the right direction. It can’t make you go there.”

A defined Moral Compass leads to personal empowerment. By providing a clear route through increasingly complex ethical dilemmas it enables leaders in business to have the moral courage to stand for what is right. It does this by applying consistent defined principles to ethical problems. A useful way to think about your “moral compass” is to think of it like an ordinary compass with North representing Integrity, South – Forgiveness, East -Compassion, and West – Responsibility.

Business owners who are grounded by these four principles create very successful organizations; these four universal principles are honored in some form by all people. A morally intelligent organization is one whose culture is infused with worthwhile values and whose members consistently act in ways aligned with those values. The business advantages of moral intelligence may be hard to quantify, but the business costs of moral ignorance are undeniable.

  • Integrity –  When we act with integrity, we harmonize our behavior to conform to universal human principles. We do what we know is right; we act in line with our principles and beliefs.  
  • Responsibility – Only a person willing to take responsibility for their actions  and the consequences of those actions will ensure that they conform to universal human principles.
  • Compassion – Is vital because caring about others not only communicates our respect for others, but creates a climate in which others will be compassionate toward us when we need it most.
  • Forgiveness – Is a crucial principle, because without a tolerance for mistakes and the knowledge of our own imperfection, we are likely to be rigid, inflexible, and unable to engage with others in ways that promote our mutual good.

A roadmap for sustainable optimal success for both individuals and organizations is the alignment of behaviors with goals and goals with moral principles and personal values. For companies, ethical values are proving to be the missing link between the integrity of business operations and strict adherence to free-market incentives. Hence, the moral compass analogy, as an apt metaphor to signal that leadership is ultimately responsible for setting the course by which business operations succeed or fail in meeting the moral expectations of society and the financial goals of the business.

 “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.” -Theodore Roosevelt

Best-practice companies can be proactive agents of change, simply by voluntarily agreeing to raise their standards of business ethics. Companies that adhere to ethical standards perform better financially in the long run than those without such a commitment. The best way to protect the ethical culture of an organization is to make it real and visible. You will tend to motivate, engage and inspire employees, and customers will want to do business with you even if you cost more than the competition.

We have also observed that there is a direct relationship between the behavior of business leaders around these four principles and organizational effectiveness. Customers in the 21st Century seek to do business with people they know, like and trust. This means you must show up as trustworthy and authentic. Success at any costs, no matter how it affects the rest of the world, is no longer a viable option.

If leaders demonstrate integrity – that is, tell the truth, stand up for what is right even when it is difficult and keep their promises; they generate trust from their customers and their employees. If they take responsibility for their decisions, admit their mistakes and embrace responsibility; they inspire the whole business. If they are forgiving; they create the conditions for innovation, and finally, if they are compassionate; they tend to develop a following of loyal customers and retain the best employees.

Jamie Wood, Avatel EVP

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2 Comments

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