Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ethical Standards and Fairness

Bernardo A. Sanfeliz
Sergeant Major, USA, Retired

Societies are made up of individuals who in turn are formed by the societies in which they live. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) noted this when he wrote, “…the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears and the social state into which that race has slowly grown… Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”

In the Spencerian view a moral person is one who has been formed by a society in which there is intelligent public conversation about right and wrong. Such a society emerges from a long traditional of public conversation on Ethics. Such was the courtly England of Spencer's day. In other words, Spencer was speaking of his time and place.

But what of contemporary America? We are a young country and while we are heirs of the philosophical tradition of Western Europe, we do not have a long history of public conversation on Ethics. Nor is our society governed by Victorian politeness. Rather we are a people who value individualism and tend to think that what is best for Number One is best. When we think of progress, we tend to measure it in terms of personal financial gain or advancement in the workplace. When we think of social reform we usually want to remake society in our own image.

The ethics of organizational management involve developing personal ethical guidelines. The manager must know his or her ethical boundaries or what consitutes personal integrity. This is learned from observing a good manager. It is learned from observing the consequences of actions. It is often developed out of a religious viewpoint, or it may be based on doing what is fair.

I prefer the last approach, but don't find it an easy one. Fairness, like integrity, is sometimes difficult to determine. It involves determining the facts, down to the small details. It involvces talking frankly to people I supervise. Even when I feel that I have all the facts and a clear picture of the situation, I still realize that fairness is not objective. My own ethical framework is still a filter through which I must strain the facts and determine what is fair.

Still, after almost 30 years of management in the Army and in the corporate world, I can say that the principle of fairness works. My management style may sometimes be regarded as aloof, but I've never been acused of being unfair. Partly this is because I try to be consistent. Here is my statement of Personal Ethical Guidelines:

I treat others honestly and with respect, and expect the same treatment from them.
I give a good days work and am willing to sacrifice.
I tell the truth.
I seek to be fair.

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