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Five Powerful Principles For Navigating Through A Crisis

Bruce Weinstein
· Sep 5, 2022
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Here are five powerful principles that will help you make the right decisions in your auditing practice and in your personal life. They're a reliable foundation for navigating through a crisis but work well in calmer times, too. I’ll include questions to reflect upon so that you may put these principles into practice immediately.

Principle #1: Do No Harm

The first and most important principle of all: Do No Harm

What group of people immediately comes to mind when you see the phrase, “Do No Harm”? Probably healthcare workers. After all, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and clinical social workers are taught in school, “First, do no harm.”

But this principle also applies to you too, even if you’re not in healthcare. The best thing about Do No Harm is that all it takes to apply it is—nothing! It is a principle of restraint.

For reflection

What is one simple thing you can do today to avoid causing harm to yourself, members of your team, the people you serve and your family? How might this serve to make you a better auditor?

A crucial corollary: Prevent Harm

Do No Harm is a principle of restraint, but sometimes it is necessary to do something so that harm doesn’t occur. 

For reflection

What can you do this week to prevent harm to your team members or your clients?

Principle #2: Make Things Better

The second principle: Make Things Better

Not causing harm is the least we can expect from one another. But ethical auditors are also committed to the principle Make Things Better.

For reflection

What is your business doing to make things better for others during now? How might this turn out to be beneficial for your business, even if your focus is primarily on making a positive difference in the world?

Principle #3: Respect Others

Ethical leaders show respect for people by honoring these three rules consistently:

  • Keep Your Promises
  • Tell the Truth
  • Project Confidentiality

Let’s look at each in turn.

Keep Your Promises

We think of contracts with our employers or clients as legal documents. They are. Above all, however, they are promises. We promise to do what our job descriptions or statements of work requires of us. In return, our employers or clients promise to pay us (and perhaps offer benefits like health insurance and sick leave).

Promise-keeping is a two-way street. Companies that lead with ethical intelligence don’t abandon their employees during a crisis, even if it means taking a financial hit (short of going out of business). Ethically intelligent employers provide flexibility, when possible, with respect to child care and other crucial needs.

For reflection

How is your business keeping its promises to the people it serves?

Tell the truth

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” Ethical leaders keep this saying (of uncertain origin) in mind during crises and all other times too.

For reflection

How forthcoming are you in your work? If sometimes you hold back on communicating truthfully, why? What will it take to move toward greater honesty? How might your auditing practice benefit by doing so?

Protect Confidentiality

My nominee for Worst Office Design Idea of the Past 100 Years is the all-too-common open-plan office. This sonic horror show is a nightmare ethically, because private business conversations that had once been kept private are now out there for everyone to hear. The workaround of having a few private areas or cubbyholes doesn’t solve the problem overall.

Isn't working from home be an improvement in this regard? Perhaps, but we still run the risk of having sensitive information overheard by others who shouldn’t be privy to it.

For reflection

What is one simple thing you can do to protect your business and your clients from having sensitive information divulged?

Principle #4: Be Fair

To be fair is to give to others their due. The Los Angeles Times reported that Darden Restaurants, whose properties include Olive Garden and other casual eateries, established a paid sick-leave policy during the pandemic for its 190,000 employees. In so doing, the leadership of Darden Restaurants evinces ethical intelligence.

The Times also lists companies that have rejected such policies to save money, although their CEOs are and will remain rich. That is both unfair and bad for business. Whoever said “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” wasn’t thinking about situations like this.

For reflection

What do you do to ensure that you’re treating your employees and customers fairly? 

Principle #5: Care

The fifth principle of ethical intelligence is Care.

Of the five principles of ethical intelligence, this one may be in the shortest supply in the world, but it’s also the easiest one to apply. It takes little effort to let your team members and clients know that you care about them during this crisis.

A great way to apply this principle of by writing unsolicited recommendations on LinkedIn for valued colleagues or customers once a week. Each recommendation will take you all of five minutes, and it will be a permanent boost to the person’s career, especially if they have few or no recommendations now.

If you don’t use LinkedIn, a handwritten thank-you note or even an email or a text can make a big difference in another person’s life.

Self-care

Ethical auditors and other leaders care deeply about others. They also care about themselves. They strive to eat healthfully, exercise, and get enough sleep. They also counterbalance self-criticism with positive thoughts. All of these are difficult to do consistently. They’re also part of what ethical leadership is about.

Dr. Andrew Weil talks about the value of“news fasts”—taking a break periodically from the news, with its relentless focus on horrible things happening in the world. Turning away if only for a few hours a day helps to manage the intense anxiety most of us have now.

At the beginning of a flight, the flight attendant tell us, “In the event of the loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. Put the mask on yourself before attempting to help others.” Why? Because if you’re not in good shape, you’re in no position to help anyone else.

For reflection

How do you take care of yourself? What is one thing you could do better in this area?

Summary

During a crisis--and at all other times too--ethical leaders strive to do these things as consistently as possible:

Do No Harm

  • Prevent Harm

Make Things Better

Respect Others

  • Keep Promises
  • Tell the Truth
  • Maintain Confidentiality

Be Fair

Care

It’s extraordinarily difficult to live by these principles every day, which is why you are to be commended for having read this far. It means you take this matter seriously and are willing to take a few moments from your day to commit to being your best. Thank you.

Acknowledgment

I adapted these principles from Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress’s masterwork Principles of Biomedical Ethics (Oxford University Press). I simplified the language (e.g., their Principle of Nonmaleficence becomes Do No Harm here). I also broadened the scope of the principles to include business and personal life.

You’ve also learned them from your parents, teachers, mentors, and spiritual leaders. In no way do I claim I came up with these principles. Consider this blog post a brief refresher course. I hope it has been useful.

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Thank you for reading this. I hope you're having a good day.

At your service,

Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D., The Ethics Guy
Forbes Contributor
Ethics Trainer and Speaker

P.S. Take an even cooler ethics test here. Includes video analysis of each answer. You can also sign up for my free weekly emails on ethics and ethical leadership that will enrich your work in accounting, human resources, engineering, and other essential professions. 

P.P.S. Here's my contributor page on LearnFormula / CPD Formula with a description of the courses I offer for CPAs and HR professionals, all of which will earn you one or two continuing education credits in ethics.

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