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Ethics, the idea of saying yes or no to a job, a contract or work that may leave you feeling uncomfortable, is a personal subject for each and every one of us. For the majority of entrepreneurs, there are clear boundaries between what is right and what is wrong, which are reinforced by legislation. While the region’s reputation may suggest that corruption is a pressing issue, in most countries in the Middle East, paying a bribe to a government official will land you in jail.
However, ethics isn’t always as clear-cut as this. Talking to two experienced journalists, who I respect for their own ethical judgment, it was obvious that they had to fight ethical battles on a daily basis on issues which were plain wrong (offering money for coverage) as well as more challenging points (whether an advertiser deserved coverage for a piece of news that didn’t fit the focus of their publication). Similarly, a good friend in the communications sector who worked with an agency told me about a prospective client who’d claimed all the ideas from a pitch her agency had given to the company. The company had used those ideas over the course of a year, and had not provided any compensation to her agency. That prospective client and those potential advertisers didn’t believe strongly enough that their actions were unethical. I’d have to disagree with them.
Ethics is an issue that many of us tackle regularly; we are often faced with hard choices, choices that can mean the loss of a potential project or client. No matter how much we feel the urge to cut corners to get things done be it due to costs or time constraints, resisting that desire is the only way to create a healthy, sustainable business.
To borrow from Benjamin Franklin, it takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it. A bad reputation is a legacy that will cost far more than a momentary lapse in judgment and can directly impact sales, as new customers stay away and existing customers choose to go elsewhere. Similarly, a bad reputation can impact operations and your workforce as suppliers and business partners choose to end the relationship and employee morale drops and your staff leave you.
Instead, look to build and encourage ethical principles, create a reputation that is built on honesty, integrity, trust, loyalty, fairness, respect, leadership and accountability. It’s not the easiest path to take, and it’s hard to miss out on opportunities to make what initially seems to be easy money when an opportunity comes along that is too good to be true or which requires a favor in return. However, stay the course and commit to ethical values. While it can often be the harder choice to make, always do the right thing. To quote Mark Twain, it will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.