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Commit to doing the right thing

Keeping your moral standards high as your career progresses isn’t as easy as you might think, write Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac H Smith for Harvard Business Review.

Prejudices and psychological attitudes you encounter in the workplace can influence and confuse your ethical judgement, making it more of a challenge to stick to your values and consistently do the ‘right’ thing.

The key to resistance and resilience, if you want an ethical career, is to be not only well intentioned but also well prepared, say the authors, especially in sectors where moral stresses are part of the culture.


The first step, they say, is to accept that if we drop our guard we could all be tempted to stray from our chosen principles and create stories to justify our behaviour. A sense of “moral humility” will prompt you to view an ethical stance as actively seeking the virtuous, rather than simply looking to avoid the immoral.

Their three-pronged approach advocates that as part of a long-term commitment to developing an ethical career you should:

1) Be prepared for your morals to be tested. Understanding your own values and the things that might tempt you to stray is a good starting point. Then, ask yourself some pertinent questions like:

  • What would you like to be said about you in your eulogy?
  • What do you want to give to your professional life?
  • What habits, such as mindfulness, could help you resist temptations?

Consider tricky ‘what if?’ scenarios, bearing in mind your strengths and weaknesses, and plan your responses. For example: “If I am solicited for a bribe, then I will consult my company’s legal team and formal policies for guidance.”

Without preaching, make your ethical values clear to colleagues and seek mentors with the same moral compass.

2) Make the best choice you can at the time. Many factors go into the decision process and sometimes it’s hard to know if we are walking the right ethical road. Kouchaki and Smith suggest taking your time and testing your rationale and reconsidering if you answer ‘no’ to any of these questions:

  • If your decision and the reasons behind it were published on page one of the local paper, would you feel comfortable?
  • Is your decision good enough to set a precedent?
  • If you look in the mirror would you see the person you want to be?

3) Learn from your past experiences. Reflection is vital if you want to achieve an ethical life, both personally and professionally. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about recognising that you can be better in the future and asking advice from people you respect and trust.

Deflecting the pressure to conform is tricky, but resolving to own your actions will bring you to a place where you can honestly question other people’s decisions, even if it means challenging colleagues or bosses.


Aspiring to be a consistently ‘good’ person is brave and difficult, but with continuing focus and attention it is not only achievable, it can make your work more meaningful and help you to fulfil your true potential.

Source Article: Building An Ethical Career
Author(s): Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac H Smith
Publisher: Harvard Business Review