Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin (www.beg.utexas.edu).
For more information, please contact the author.
AAPG Distinguished Ethics Lecture Tour,
The “I” in BusIness EthIcs
Accusations of business ethics violations seem
to dominate headlines. Were these companies unguided by ethics policies?
Quite the contrary—but they were seemingly unguided by ethical leadership.
Although leaders influence the financial, strategic, and political aspects
of a company, perhaps nowhere is the impact of leadership felt more strongly
than in the ethics arena. Ethical companies depend on ethical leaders.
Some ethical situations are straightforward and can be guided by rules,
laws, and policies. However, many situations are “neither wholly
right nor wholly wrong” and introduce difficult dilemmas having
justifiable alternatives and significant consequences. The business ethics
gray zone is made more complicated by the complex global condition in
which laws vary by country and ethics vary by culture.
Is it possible to frame an approach for ethical decision making in a world
where no society, culture, or religion owns the ethical high ground? Laws
and rules result from historical precedence and as such serve as well-founded
guidelines for business decision making. But laws and rules should not
be used to provide protective legal cover for corporations to do the wrong
Corporations do not make ethical decisions; individuals do. Can an approach
that targets the individual achieve results that exceed the ethical capacity
of the organization? Several case examples provide a framework to explore
ethical decision making, with a focus on a few basic tenets of individual
interaction—honor your promises; consider the spirit of the law;
recognize the situational context; reflect before deciding; compromise
within personal limits; accept responsibility; and follow the Golden Rule.