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Actions Speak Loudest

Sinner? Saint? All eyes are on you, and your employees will pass judgment.

As a small-business owner, you'll encounter situations (if you haven't already) that will test your integrity and make you feel like you're walking through an entrepreneurial Garden of Eden. Perhaps you're faced with the temptation to tell "little white lies" to customers to make a sale. Or maybe it's a tendency not to be upfront with your vendors and suppliers. Sometimes, there's pressure to give your investors additional perks that don't apply across the board.

But before you bite into the apple of entrepreneurial enticement, think first about the impact those actions will have on your staff. These days, your choice of how to take care of business affects the length of time your employees choose to work for you. "Today's employees are looking at the virtue and character of their leaders," says Dick Mason of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Character is really a beacon for them. They want to know that the leadership has integrity."

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Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the May 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Actions Speak Loudest.

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