What Exactly Is Ethics?

A while ago, I had the good fortune to be able to sit down with John Dalla Costa, author of The Ethical Imperative. While I shared my song and dance on leadership, I was dying to ask John, “What the heck  is ethics?” At the appropriate moment, I sprang my question. And to my surprise, John’s answer was very succinct: “Ethics is others.”

That’s it? Twenty-ve years of research and the answer is three small words.

Later, as I let John’s concentrated wisdom sink in, the profound simplicity–and complexity–of his denition hit me. Leaders face ethical dilemmas every day, and it usually boils down to people–managing constant stakeholder-related trade-offs and serving one constituency better or more than another. Every day we are to some degree ethical and to some degree unethical. We can’t make failsafe decisions on a regular basis, but we can accumulate paradigms and pathways towards how we influence others.

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