Luncheon – August 19, 2005: AAPG Distinguished Lecture

Talk Title: The “I” in BusIness EthIcs
Speaker: Scott W. Tinker, Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin
Date: August 19, 2005
Publication: The Outcrop, August 2005, p. 5

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 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 with 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 thing and then duck the blame if caught.

Corporations do not make ethical decisions; individuals do. Can an approach that targets the individual result in a process that exceeds the ethical capacity of the organization? Via several case examples, we will explore a framework for ethical decision making that is guided by 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.