Ethics and relationship challenges, definitions and requirements

In his second guest blog Eliot Charles Heilpern – Chief Executive Officer at Parthenon Communications – explores ethics and relationship challenges, definitions and requirements.

Eliot is also a Director and Co-Founder at The Payments Business – join the payments debate at the

Throughout my professional career of 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced first-hand the disparate and changing behaviours of individuals in society here and abroad, within the work place, and wider public domain. The overall impression for me personally that emanates from this scenario is challenging; given I believe we all want to make our society and country a better place. This is not an easy task I fear currently, with the “Brexit debate” that was, disunity in the country, together with the social and professional stress under which many people suffer in today’s eclectic environment; and the apparent lack of any honest and transparent economic, political, or even spiritual leadership here in the UK.

In my last article entitled “Ethics: do we understand what these are, and once understood, can we achieve and live by them?” I attempted to answer what ethics is, and how we can identify and adhere to an ethical approach in the working environment, and in our private affairs. I recall defining ethics as “what it is not!” However, I also offered a personal definition of ethics as: “a well-formed set of standards concerning right and wrong, which leads to a moral belief and a moral code of conduct”. Well perhaps now I can move the discussion forward along by defining what actually constitutes ethics, its challenges, and how it is made up.

At its simplest; ethics is a system of moral principles, and these principles affect how people make decisions and lead their lives. Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society. It is described as a moral philosophy. The term is derived from the Greek word “ethos” which means custom, habit, character or disposition, and covers a number of key challenges. These can be considered as:

  • How to live a good life
  • Our rights and responsibilities
  • The language of right and wrong
  •  Moral decisions – what is good and bad?

Our concept of ethics has been derived over the centuries from various religions, philosophies and cultures. These scenarios infuse debates on topics like abortion, human rights and professional conduct. It is the latter point of “professional conduct” and the work environment in particular on which my former article and this piece concentrate; and illustrate how this behaviour impinges upon our society, our professional life, the work place, and ultimately the culture of our country.

Consider the following:

In my view, ethics is not simply about how we behave towards one another, how we react given a particular situation, or doing the right thing and obeying the law etc., it is also about character. Furthermore, it is about individual steadfastness, creativity, empowerment, and total honesty with oneself. This means allowing individuals to delve deep into their very own creativeness thereby empowering themselves to:

  • Think freely without being told what to consider
  • Speak freely without being told what to say, and…….
  •  Provide society with creative wealth without being told how to produce, or offer it

We are fortunate in the UK because ethics is an accepted approach of our social and economic way of life that has been adopted within our democratic system and confines of this country’s true and valued freedoms; and in a manner that conveys acceptable and civilized behaviour. Ethics in the commercial world highlights some of the key characteristics of a free market, of the financial eco-system in which we work, and the nation state and all its residents; irrespective of ethnicity, background, religion, and social circumstances. These are the embodiments of the freedoms that we enjoy by living in a economically modern and socially well-managed Western Democratic Civilized and Industrialised Society; and as such, these incarnations provide our society with an ethical code of conduct by which to live.

All humanity should enjoy these freedoms, whose underlying strata is ethics and ethical values; but these ethics and resultant freedoms do not come automatically as a “right”. These are privileges that have to be earned and won; as this country’s freedom has been won from a historical perspective, at a significant price.

Consequently, these ethical characteristics and features of the nation need to be jealously coveted and preserved. We do this by using three key factors, which I have labelled as follows:

  •  The Trust Factor 
  •  The Value Factor 
  • The Leadership Factor 

Let us look at each from the commercial perspective.

The Trust Factor consists of credibility with one’s client + integrity + reliability. Together these attributes will allow for professional intimacy between a supplier and a buyer. If one then adds to this concoction one’s own personal professional intimacy as a representative of an employer, and in doing so utilises and maximises one’s own professional style and self-orientation, we have TRUST, and a true client relationship and partnership.

When considering the Value Factor, we need to remember that the dialogue between buyer and seller is all about the client relationship, and the client’s perception of that relationship because; in today’s commercial environment, perception is indeed reality. Consequently, we are talking about displaying true probity, genuine respect, integrity, morality and absolute dignity in discussions with the client. This dialogue is not just with the external client, but is also with an “internal” client, where for example; one is reliant on another internal department’s activity and support, in meeting the needs and targets of one’s own corporate department. The commercial bottom line of revenue generation is always there of course. But this has to be supported and enhanced by managing the expectations of people and stakeholders inside and outside the organisation. But none of the latter will come to fruition, most importantly revenue generation, unless the aforementioned Trust and Value factors are there as the glue that encompasses a true ethical approach. As such, ethics surpasses all!

 As a further example, consider the following:

  • In any business relationship there is a supplier of services, and a buyer of services; two key distinct entities, and both have separate functions and responsibilities
  •  However, for the relationship to be successful and enduring there are actually three entities in the relationship, not just two
  •  There is (1) the supplier; (2) the buyer; and additionally, there is (3) the business relationship itself, which must be based on ethical business practice that encompasses trust and values
  • This business relationship should be treated as you yourself would wish to be treated; (like a marriage with three elements to it; the husband, the wife, and the marriage itself)
  • This relationship approach is essential because it represents the ethical interactive approach of both parties which enables this business relationship to flourish, irrespective of size. Hence, ethical behaviour and best business ethical practice is a must, and again trumps all! 

Finally, we have the Leadership Factor. This is more challenging, given it is subjective and depends on an individual’s personal style. I referred to this briefly in the previous ethics article, and it is worth emphasising again that a commercial entity’s internal attitude to employees, its external approach to the market place, and its overriding corporate and brand culture is dependent to a very large extent upon the CEO’s behavioural attitudes; such as conviction and belief in the company’s offerings and message, courage to progress, or not in the face of stiff opposition, creativity, genuine interest and empathy with employees and clients, together with decisiveness, communicative ability, and presence.

 My view is: had we had more trust, values and leadership in the international banking sector over the years, particularly since “Big Bang,” the recent financial crisis could have been potentially averted.

 The question therefore needs to be asked; how do we as individuals train ourselves to adopt a true ethical approach, now that we supposedly know what ethics is? Here, another challenge arises; this “training” can be viewed an individual’s “journey of personal learning”, and that is not an easy venture to accomplish.

Personal experience tells me that: “the older one gets, the more one learns; but – very often – the less one truly understands.” This sounds strange does it not? Well turn the scenario around. Make life somewhat easier for oneself by aiming to understand each issue and problem or a situation in isolation, if need be; in spite of the fact that everything is inter-related, cause and effect, action and re-action, and so on. Even if this approach makes one feel that one is learning less than what was initially sought at the outset, when embarking on this path of self-learning; it does not matter; because in the longer term, this feeling of “having learned less,” will dissipate. Why? because through this apparent “lesser understanding” initially, there is actually a deeper and more intrinsic and meaningful longer-term value, given this is only the first stage in a lengthy and enduring “learning process”. This deemed “lesser understanding” will become more significant to the individual concerned within their own chosen time frame, rather than relying on future predictions, and a “top-down” narrative. A sort of “slowly slow catch ye monkey.” Hence, in this scenario; “less is indeed more.”

Schumacher the economist and philosopher, was right when he said: “small is beautiful.” But whatever the result or methodology used, ethics is the corner stone and represents the all-encompassing landscape within which this individual “journey of learning” resides.

It is worthwhile considering what actions are behind true ethics. I would suggest we look at the following; what make humans unique as opposed to other species on this planet, is our freedom to determine how we act, and behave. Whenever we make a choice it is always possible to have made a different one; a sort of “opportunity cost.” Ethics is only possible because we can act against our nature, which is based on our personal conscience, if we so chose. Of all the ways we may act, given a particular scenario, we must ask ourselves; which is the best? Of all the possibilities, we must also ask ourselves; which action should we undertake, in order to bring about the best result? These are questions that ethics tries to answer, and the driving force here is the crucial meaning and reference to the word “best”. We must further ask ourselves; “best,” but by what criteria or measure? Should this be economically, commercially, socially, or even spiritually? What is meant by “best?”

This is a difficult question to answer, as today people are afraid to ask that very same question, as they simply feel more comfortable in continuing with the safe and proven ways of the past, they pass responsibility on to others as has always been the way, and stick to the status quo. However, ethics is a tough partner and aid with which our our good senses have to compete, as it asks us to take on responsibilities for our own true beliefs, our own actions, and live a life that is truly our own.

We then come to the next challenge, and that is; how does one decide which way to go? Stay on the same trusted path, or progress and live by our own true beliefs? These too are not easy questions to answer. This is because ethics is not the only supposed and deemed way to define what the “best” decision looks like. Why? because ethics can be impinged upon and interfered with by individuals whom use it as a cover and a pretense, to advance their own agenda, and goals. Alternatively, others may decide to focus on what is likely to be the most popular choice, irrespective of the outcome! Clearly, both modes of behaviour are not very ethical at all! But these are human hedonistic, selfish and short-term encumbrances. That is all, nothing more; and we can overcome these impediments, and beat them; by simply avoiding them, and their seductive temptation completely.

Instead we need to maintain the belief that ethics offers us the best option to achieve what is good, right, and consistent with the scenario that we are facing at any given moment in time. The way to do this can be encapsulated under three further elements, and these are; “Values”, “Principles”, and “Purpose”.

Let us look at each:

  • Values: these are things, situations, scenarios etc., that are good and that we strive for, desire, and seek to protect
  • Principles: these tell us what is right and what is wrong, so we know what we should do, in order to achieve our values and objectives
  • Purpose: this provides us with the very reason that we are here as the human race, and we exist; that is to live on this earth with our values and principles

Given the above, our “definitions of ethics” continues to grow, and become more complicated. As such, perhaps now we should further add that ethics is: the process of defending, questioning, and discovering the above three categories, and clarifying who we are, and staying true to who we are, in the face of uncertainty and temptation. This additional defined activity is certainly not great entertainment, I readily admit; and again it is clearly very challenging. Nevertheless, I believe that the human condition can indeed be successful and achieve this desired aim, so long as we commit to it, and prepare our strength of character to build a life that is truly our own, and a future in which all want to be involved. 

To conclude:

We now finally arrive at the true heart of the ethics debate, and that is: our “Moral Compass”. In my view, this is the hardest and most abstract item in the ethics discussion to describe and define. We know what this is, or we think we do; but do we honestly know? I believe that this moral compass is: the perceived, profound and yet intangible yardstick, and criteria, that lies within all of us – without exception – to utilise and adhere to, as an instinctive personal and instructive guide, and standard for good behaviour. As a result of this internal instrument, we know; right from wrong, truth from lies, and good from evil.

My view is that you cannot teach someone on how to use their moral compass and internal intuition; call it what you like. One cannot learn about it by simply reading about it; and yes, ethics as discussed here – important and essential as it is in all civilised societies – is but the roadway only on which to base this behaviour and mindset. However, it is this moral compass that has given human kind – as one of the many species on this planet – the mental capacity, the higher intelligence and wisdom to understand, to decide and to differentiate itself from other species. I firmly believe that our moral compass is the “generative power” and “engine” of ethics itself. It is the core and nucleus of ethics. Consequently, I say; we must nurture this capacity, we must value and cherish it, we must hold on to it, and we must never lose it; because if lost, society is lost too; irredeemably! The result of this loss I regret to say is that humanity and the human condition will never recover, and our professional, economic, and social way of life will never be re-born.

Eliot Charles Heilpern

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