by Joe Anderson, Featured Contributor
I LIKE COUNTRY MUSIC and one of my favorite country artists is George Jones. He had a great song some years ago titled “Choices”:
I’ve had choices
Since the day that I was born
There were voices
That told me right from wrong
If I had listened
No I wouldn’t be here today
Living and dying
With the choices I made”
Whenever I hear the song, I think about the choices I’ve had and the decisions I’ve made as a business leader and I think about why I made the decisions I did. To me, choices boil down to our moral and ethical character i.e., what do we stand for. ..do we take the hard choice or the easy choice…do we have the courage to take the hard choice or do we simply look at “what’s in it for me” and damn the consequences.
Leaders have choices and make decisions…that’s their job. It’s the decision as to which choice to take that’s exposes the character of the leader. A number of years ago, I had a conversation with an Episcopal Priest about the ethical behavior of leaders and our discussion eventually shifted to situational ethics and the idea that the “end justifies the means”. His position was that situational ethics was desirable; where right and wrong depend upon the situation. I understood the religious underpinnings of situational ethics but I didn’t necessarily agree with him. My point was that leaders needed to have a firm foundation of ethical and moral standards that says I will not cross this line. Needless to say, he thought I was being rigid so, after a bit of back and forth, we agreed to disagree.
I’ve thought a lot about whether or not I’m too rigid in believing that leaders need a moral compass, a set of ethical standards that forces us to look at our choices and guides us in our decision making processes and I don’t think I am. I think leaders need to have that “line in the sand” that they will not cross regardless of the pleasure, money, power or advantage one will gain. Not having a moral compass sets us adrift to do whatever wish, whenever we wish, to whomever we wish to do it and that mentality scares the hell out of me.
When I look at what we value in America, it’s all about money and power. We’ve become numb to egregious acts of corporate and political malfeasance, lawyer misconduct, and the absence of personal accountability. We’ve become incapable of being outraged and if we are, our voices are drowned out by those who accuse us of “political incorrectness”, of being intolerant, of being racist, of being insensitive. We’ve lost our sense of moral and ethical character as a measure of “what you are”…instead we only value “who you are” and substance doesn’t matter.
As the George Jones song goes, “there were voices that told me right from wrong”…the question is, are you going to listen to the voices and what choice are you going to take? Only you can make the decision as to what’s right or wrong but the impact of taking the wrong choice may have you “living and dying with the choices you made”.