In today’s world there is a wide gap between success and ethics. Ethics violations seem to have dominated the news over the past five year. From Enron, to Worldcom, to a Wal-Mart VP, to Martha Stewart, everywhere we turn we seem to be bombarded with the faces of “successful” people who have been vexed with ethical issues and suffered the consequences. They certainly were not the first nor will they be the last examples of the consequences of unethical behavior.
The big question that seems to go unanswered is what happened? What happened that caused these people to choose unethical behavior? Were they naturally unethical? Was it the desire for more money too great? Were they inherently “bad” people? Were they ignorant of their own value system?
To understand success and ethics, we must first examine the two so take a minute and think about success. Write your thoughts down on paper. There is no right or wrong answer, just your thoughts. Take your time and make your notes on paper. What does success mean to you? Is it the accumulation of material wealth? Is it being happy? What makes you happy? Is success measured in your life by the lessons learned on life’s journeys? Is success, for you, that you tried or is it that you achieved? Does success come from a disciplined life? How was success modeled for you in your home?
Now, let’s think about ethics. Close your eyes for a moment and think about what ethics mean to you. When you return to reading, write your thoughts down. Do you believe the you were born inherently good? How did you learn ethics/values? Were they taught to you by your parents, church or school? Were they taught to you at all? Was what you were taught exemplified in your environment at home, school or church? Would you be willing to compromise your ethics for success? Are you successful because of your ethics? How do you feel when you operate apart from your sense of ethics?
I was adopted at birth by my parents. My adoptive father died when I was two years old and my mother became a single parent which created in it some financial woes. My mother worked hard to feed and clothe us. I grew up in the projects. My mother always said to hold your head high and be somebody and when I grew up I would be somebody.
When I grew up I went to college and received my masters in accounting and became a CPA. Success to me meant having a lot of money, a beautiful home, a Mercedes, and all the benefits that go with wealth. I achieved it. I had it all. I was happy. I had a wife, two children. I was highly respected in the community. My articles were published in accounting journals. I traveled throughout the country teaching accounting seminars. I couldn’t be happy.
Ethics? At that time, I didn’t think much about them. I did what I thought was morally right. I went to church. I was even the music director. I was an embezzler. I didn’t give much thought to it as I was just “borrowing” from one client and replacing it with another client’s money. However, I wasn’t asking their permission. As is true in most cases where unethical behavior reigns, it fell apart around me. I ended up in Federal Prison, which, I am grateful to say, became my wake-up call.
During my prison time I evaluated the success at the cost of ethics. I evaluated what success was, and I came to understand that I manifested the illusion of success compounded by unethical behavior resulting in negative consequences. I came to understand that success or being somebody began inside myself. It was who I was regardless of the environment I am in. Success, for me, became the positive choices I made and how I lived my life throughout its journey. The external manifestation of success then came about because of my ethical choices. I left prison and became gainfully employed. Now, 11 years later, I am an executive in a publicly traded company and an international keynote speaker.
It took for me prison time to clarify for me what success and ethics are and that they can co-exist if you choose to allow them to co-exist. I found success with integrity. I chose not to compromise ethics for success. The journey has its ups and down, but I walk it with my head held high looking forward to the future.
Success is best measured by the choices we make on the journey of life. It is not only the attainment of material items, but also it is the process of attaining those items. It is how we treated ourselves and others on that path. It is the decisions we make on the journey to choose right or to choose wrong. It is what we do with the outcome or the consequences of our decision. Success and ethics can co-exist and must co-exist to be truly successful. It is when they do not co-exist that problems occur.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were tempted to compromise your integrity and honesty for success?
Every choice has a consequence. You might not see it immediately, and some feel that there might not be a consequence. Just because the consequence doesn’t materialize immediately doesn’t mean there are no consequences as there are consequences for everything that we do. If you want positive results, than choose the right path. When all is said and done, the materials of success can be taken away from you, but they can never take away your integrity. It is never too late to choose the integrous (ethical) pathway. The rewards are amazing and I am living proof of it.