As a very keen rugby player for more than thirty years, I always played to win. I trained hard, played hard and gave everything I had on the pitch to enable my team to be successful. I was fearlessly competitive but at the same time fearlessly fair. Winning wasn’t everything but wanting to win was. I truly believed that success didn’t count unless you earned it fair and square. But why? Was I born that way? Of course not, none of us are.
Like many of us I learned my personal values from my parents. My father was my super hero and he would always find time to watch me play sport. I recall that in my first season of playing rugby at school, I was selected to represent the 1st XV, a huge privilege. With the game tied with only seconds to go, I received the ball with a few yards of space and sprinted towards the try line. I was tackled just as I was about to score the winning try and collapsed in a heap over the try line, losing control of the ball which ended up somewhere near my feet. To my amazement the referee awarded the try and blew the final whistle. We’d won the game and I was hailed the hero of the hour!
The 'but' in my victory
In the car on the way home my father asked me to explain to him the rules of rugby. I did this with huge excitement, given I now considered myself something of a star player and worldly expert on everything to do with the noble sport. When I explained about the need to ground the ball over the try line, my father simply said, “so you know you cheated the other team, your teammates and yourself, so how does that make you feel?” The guilt and embarrassment that I felt at that very moment is still as vivid in my mind today as it was some thirty-five years ago.
Surviving the ethical dilemma
Whenever I find myself facing an ethical dilemma whether in my personal or business life, I always call upon those early memories and principles that my parents taught me. These values help me do the right thing and navigate through those grey areas we occasionally find ourselves in.
So, when you’re confronted with a business dilemma, call on those special memories and experiences. These self-check questions are also particularly powerful and useful to ask yourself:
• Is it in line with the corporate code of conduct and company values?
• Would I be happy reading about it in the newspapers or on social media?
• Is it legal? Am I comfortable with it?
• Could I explain my decision to my friends and family?
Something to have in mind, compliance doesn’t have to be difficult and there are always people to reach out to for help and advice wherever you are. The person who operates from an individuated personal value system is the one who is capable of responsible leadership.
So remember, do the right thing even when no one is watching.