True Leaders Do What is Right

Sooner or later, it will happen. And when it does, you are likely to spend at least one sleepless night wondering what you should do next.

We're talking about the decision to do what is right when there is no clear answer or direction. They are some of the toughest leadership decisions you will ever make.

Most people know the difference between right and wrong. Those are the easy - or at least easier - decisions. The problems that cause the biggest pain are the choices between right and also right or the ones between wrong and less wrong.

For instance, most people would agree that it is not right to out and out lie to or deceive someone for personal gain. If you are looking at the decision to lie as a pure choice between right and wrong, the answer is obvious.

The choices that leaders are called to make are often more complicated, however. If lying isn't right, how about bending, slanting, or selectively communicating the truth to present the facts in the most favorable manner? Is it a lie, strategic communication, or even negotiation? Is it lying if the truth is not expected?

All leaders eventually find themselves in a position where they are forced to choose between what is right and what is more right or between what is wrong and what is less wrong.

The Ethics Litmus Test

When you find yourself in that uncomfortable situation, here are six questions to help you decide if your course of action is the correct one. The questions are distilled and adapted from the work of Harry Emerson Fosdick and Dr. Preston Bradley. We call them the Ethics Litmus Test.

  1. Does your course of action seem logical, responsible, and legal? This is the minimum. If what you want to do doesn't meet this test, you have a problem.

  • Would the results be beneficial if everyone made the same decision? This question forces you to address the question of fairness.
  • How will your decision affect others? Where will it lead you? If your course of action will take you farther away from a position of honesty, integrity, and trust, it is not the right one.
  • Will you think well of yourself when you think back on your decision? Think of the person you want to be in five years. Would that person make this decision?
  • How would the person you most admire handle the situation? What would your hero do? If that person wouldn't do it, why should you?
  • What would your friends and family think of your decision not IF but WHEN they read about it or see the video about it on YouTube or see it plastered on the local - or even national news? When you do something that isn't right, you are a slow news day or a random smartphone recording from it going public.
  • The best leaders earn and sustain the trust of others by doing what is right rather than focusing on who is right. If your tough choices stand up to these six questions, you on the right track. It may not be easy, but it will be right.

    Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit , email, or call 972.980.9857.