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Ask Cathy
Cutthroat Business
vs. Personal Ethics

Q. I read in your bio that you are an ordained Episcopal Minister and that spirituality plays an important role in your life.

Have you balanced the often cutthroat, unethical behavior that often arises in the business world with your own personal code of ethics and morality?

I believe that when you are younger and progressing through your career it is very difficult - in fact, I would say nearly impossible - to challenge cutthroat, unethical behavior because you have no standing to do so.

If you do challenge this behavior you will be seen as someone who rocks the boat, is high maintenance, and cannot operate organizationally in the business world.

However, you must ALWAYS fashion your own success by being a beacon for ethical and collaborative business behavior all the way through your career.

There is absolutely no doubt that cutthroat, unethical behavior drives the business world in a very real way and to claim otherwise would be foolish, particularly given the press highlights of corruption over the last 4 or 5 years. I do think you can take a more active and public stand against unethical conduct once you do achieve and progress in your field of work.

When you occupy a position of some power and authority, people will tolerate your challenging immoral and unethical behavior. You can very easily (and I certainly have and do) demand, expect and make it clear that you will not participate in, nor will you be a part of, any unethical or cutthroat behavior which undermines someone else's personal success.

I do know that you can be a success with a commitment to personal morality. You will feel better about yourself and feel proud of who you are in your working life if you do rise above unethical behavior in the context of achieving success.

It is not easy, particularly for women, to raise these issues in a roomful of men who may have always operated in ways that are not acceptable to you. I do believe we owe it to ourselves to look in the mirror at the end of the day and say I stood for something; I made my opinions known and I stood up for an issue that is fundamental to my own moral fiber. If you support the immoral behavior of others, it inevitably means you condone it and even help progress an immoral outcome.

The other thing that is inherent in this question is the issue of spirituality. I was recently with a powerful real estate developer who said, sadly, that he had ignored his spirituality his whole life. The implication was that despite great personal and professional successes, he was empty inside.

Ignoring your spiritual needs to advance your professional, personal and family successes can be very disheartening and eventually soul destroying. Somehow we all must be certain that we are being fed spiritually, whether it is by organized religion, a faith-based commitment, or simply by getting in touch with that part of us which needs to be nourished through emotional engagement.

I believe that if you do not add and grow that spiritual component to your life, you will never, ever be content and fulfilled no matter how successful you are; you will never have faith and hope in life and the human condition.

It is this sense of faith and hope that gives us the courage to stand up for what is right in the face of challenging behavior which is unethical, cutthroat or dishonest in nature.

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Cathy Horton-Panzica
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