Good People Confronting Tough Choices: a Framework for Decision-Making

WP ldr ethic confWe run or swim or walk or otherwise workout for better health and more energy, but what about ethics? Do you also have an ethical fitness plan? At the West Point Society of DC’s 8th annual WEST POINT LEADERSHIP AND ETHICS CONFERENCE, attendees learned a decision-making model for dealing with leadership and ethical challenges. Two hundred high school juniors plus faculty representation from 49 schools were introduced to the research and writing of Rushworth Kidder (How Good People Make Tough Choices: Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living).

The workshop provided a day to study, reflect and re-invigorate ethical underpinnings and helped instill an understanding of integrity, which is key to leaders of character. Integrity is a powerful word, coming from the Latin root meaning whole or integrated.

As Warren Buffet has quoted: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”

At the conference, Lance Fitzmorris, a retired CIA officer, spoke about ethical dilemmas and making decisions based on a model proposed by Rushworth Kidder.  Whereas morality is a decision about right versus wrong, ethical choices are based on right versus right. Your core values guide you, providing the lens through which you make choices. For example, you may believe that it is better to promote economic advancement through construction projects rather than preserving the green space upon which the building will stand.  Your desire to get to work by car faster on a streamlined road network is at odds with human-scale mobility infrastructure like more bike trails. How you evaluate issues depends on your belief system. Tough “right versus right” choices confront us in every aspect of our personal, professional, and national lives, so it makes sense to have a basis to evaluate these dilemmas in order to make informed decisions.

Kidder’s framework for understanding ethical dilemmas:

Justice versus Mercy:  With justice, you abide by the rules without being influenced by mitigating circumstances. Mercy encourages benevolence and taking account of the individuals involved.  It’s a matter of adhering to the letter versus spirit of the law or applying equal treatment for all versus allowing for exceptions

Few versus Many /Individual versus Community: This compares the interests of one person or a few people versus the larger group. Do the needs of the majority outweigh the interests of an individual? Eminent domain law allows a government takes private property for public use. In a cycling race, a team may allow its best rider to draft to give her the greatest chance of winning the race.

Short-Term versus Long-Term: Eat, drink and be merry because who knows if tomorrow will come versus considering the needs of those who will live generations from now. One marshmallow now is better than two in a half hour. Do we delay gratification for long term gain or use up all the resources now? Do we give a person a fish or teach him how to fish?

Truth versus Loyalty:  Truth conforms with facts.  Loyalty involves allegiance to a person, group, or set of ideas. Strict honesty versus keeping your word to someone whom you’ve pledged fidelity. Drivers make this call every day. Do I abide by the speed limit or go with the flow of traffic?

The process of transforming good leaders into better ones requires awareness of where you are; committing to change; and making improvements in the direction of where you want to be. Trust and integrity are bedrock values of strong relationships. Our nation needs leaders who are trustworthy and make ethical choices.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way. John Maxwell

© Joan S Grey, 24 March 2015

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