Are You Ready for Some Ethics? I Know I Am.

In recent days, I was honored to be asked to speak – virtually of course – to the Central Michigan University Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). Interacting with our next generation via schools and contiguous organizations has always been one of my greatest joys. Such audiences are always interested and engaged. And, the requested topic could not have been more apropos or important today: Ethics. Let’s take a look.

Indeed, proper ethics should form the very foundation of who we are as individuals and workplace professionals. When Matt Friedman and I founded Tanner Friedman in 2007, the very first thing we did was establish, in writing and in practice, who we were and what we stood for. These tenets are still prominent on our website, in our new business proposals and how we and our colleagues operate each and every day.

I often say that good ethical behavior is based on the principle of the golden rule and treating others the way that you want to be treated. Pie in the sky? Maybe, but I feel strongly that that is what we all should strive for. Thinking beyond ourselves. Giving credit where credit is due. Taking responsibility where necessary. Being respectful of others.

We seem to have devolved in many ways away from these important ethical values. Mutual respect far too often gives way to bulling and name-calling. That behavior is not acceptable on a school playground; it certainly should not be applauded in the boardroom or grocery store. What happened to civility? To having a dialogue? To compromise, finding a happy medium and/or just agreeing to disagree?

Our group discussion also delved into crisis communications and the vital importance of leaders taking responsibility in adverse situations, acting with honesty and transparency. Good leaders inform, announce corrective action and reassure. They engender trust and reveal a positive path forward. They don’t, on the other hand, mislead. They don’t get “cute” or sarcastic. In times of crisis, true character is displayed for all to see.

If ever there was a time that we should all go back to the basics of ethical behavior it is now. Because divisive does not work. Untruths mislead. Common ground can never be reached. Call me naïve but also color me optimistic. We can all do it. But we all also need to be willing to try.