Ethical Lessons From Teaching Ethics

I often say when teaching, ”If I do my job, then I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.” In wrapping up my collegiate Ethics class, I gathered four extremely valuable lessons in leadership, performance and success.

First Establish a Culture with Consequences
Because Ethics is simply understanding what is right or wrong, good or bad, establishing a group culture and recognizing rules makes sense for successful learning. Whether educating a class, or motivating a sales team, culture is established with a clear goal in mind. Upon understanding the culture, group members can decide whether to contribute to it as long as the consequences are clear and decisive. Bad grades or no bonuses serve identical purposes; they are expected punishment for behavior that is considered wrong by the established culture.

Authority Asking Honest Questions in a Safe Place Gets Honest Responses
Upon establishing a culture, good behavior can be rewarded. In a learning environment, opportunities to perform, also known as assignments, happen regularly. In the process of performing, instructions are given, questions are asked, responses are delivered and feedback is communicated. For the leader to get honest responses, then honest questions must be encouraged, respected and safe. Achieving this communication dynamic starts with leadership. Teachers and students, leaders and workers, giving honest responses must be the reward for asking honest questions. When this happens in a safe environment, the result is better performance.

People Will Argue for Their Limitations
In the classroom, producing right answers is good. Doing the reading is hard. Both students and workers may argue that lofty expectations are bad and no one can perform well in a given culture. The truth is lots of people can perform well in any reasonable culture, poor performers simply refuse to do the work. Their argument is that maintaining a proven path is good, even if it leads to mediocrity, or worse. Since Ethics primarily teaches to understand what is good or bad, these poor performers have a legitimate argument. Unfortunately, the argument is wrong in a high performance culture. Individuals may defend their inferiority. But, they lose the right to the rewards of superior performance. So if you argue for your limitations, then you get to keep them!

Grace is Grace, not Quid Pro Quo
In cultures moving toward a goal, occasionally a need for grace, or favor, emerges. Authority figures get to make judgment calls on the strictness of specific rules and interpretations. In promoting good or right, exceptions are sometimes required. Others may question fairness, but the ability and wisdom of dispensing grace falls on the leader. Grace is unmerited favor, which means someone gets what they do not deserve. Inherently, the receiver does not have to pay it back. Quid pro quo is giving or receiving something in exchange for something else. Quid pro quo equals some form of repayment. Grace means no exchange. Good cultures must never confuse the two. A bonus grade point, a random sales lead, an extended deadline may just be a gift. If it’s grace, the authority cannot expect any repayment, atta boys, or brownie points.

While effective Ethics learning touches on several fascinating and controversial topics involving consequences, decisions, values, and laws, the real benefit is getting people to bring individual perspectives and experiences to all decisions. Individuals either accept the prevailing culture with its consequences; or not. The critical lesson for teachers and students regarding good or bad, right or wrong, is that often it really just depends!

By Glenn Hunter
Principal of Hunter & Beyond

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About Hunter & Beyond

Glenn W Hunter presents his proven perspectives on business growth. He shares skills and tactics resulting in increasing sales for organizations ranging from start-ups to large corporations. His expertise focuses on storytelling, branding and networking to cultivate relationships that lead to more revenue.
This entry was posted in Creating Culture, Ethics, Leadership Development and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ethical Lessons From Teaching Ethics

  1. Pingback: Lesson in Truth | Middle Pane

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