by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 2012 (excerpted with permission from The Church Leader’s MBA: What Business School Instructors Wish Pastors Knew About Management, eds. Mark Smith and David Wright, chapter title “Becoming a Leader After God’s Own Heart” by Bob Whitesel).
Today we are having the most lively ethics discussions since ancient Greece more than 2.300 year ago… – Geoffrey P. Lantos, Professor of Business Administration[i]
A Well-intentioned Misappropriation?
“They didn’t train me for this in seminary … the rules about ethical business decisions were never addressed.”
Jim, a pseudonym, was leaving the community food bank for which he had served as director. His career had been shaky from the start, but Jim felt over time he had grown into the position. Just a year before he had told me, “this (job) is where I think I’ll stay until I retire.” Now, only in his mid-40s, Jim was leaving to pursue a career in business. He had been stung by perceived ethical missteps, which eroded his credibility, and eventually eroded his support among the food bank’s board. “They didn’t train me for this in seminary,” complained Jim. “The rules for parsing verbs were explained clear enough. But the rules about ethical business decisions were never addressed.”
The ethical landscape can be a minefield for the Christian leader. Differentiating between what is appropriate and what is illicit can be daunting. Jim had learned the lesson so many church leaders learn the hard way, that high expectations are placed upon church leaders, and ethical missteps, even minor ones can be ruinous.
What was the fiscal blunder to which Jim succumbed? In the midst of trying to keep a floundering food bank afloat, he appropriated money designated specifically for food purchases and used it for office expenses. When the benefactor learned money designated for food stuffs, was now going to buy a copy machine, they demanded their money be returned. Standing upon shaky ground, Jim could not refund the money without jeopardizing the daily operations of the center. The board decided that in order to make ends meet, Jim’s salary would have to fill the gap. And thus, Jim was unceremoniously dismissed.
Jim had rationalized, that if he didn’t apply the designated money to the non-designated needs of the office, then food bank would lose its few already overworked employees. Certainly this is not what the benefactors would want. And thus, he made a judgment call. However, it was an ethical decision that the wealthy benefactors felt crossed the line of propriety. What Jim needed was some sort of system, or procedure for effectively grappling with these ethical questions.
Fred David in his seminal book on planning, tenders a common definition of ethics. David writes, “ethics can be defined as principles of conduct within organizations that guide decision making and behavior.”[ii] This definition is good, even in its brevity, for it reminds us that ethics are not a set of hypothetical decrees, but principles that actively affect daily action and attitude. Ethics are powerful and dynamic ways of thinking that determine our choices, our actions, and our future.
In today’s world, ethics play a central role. The media is full of accounts of moral breaches of ethical behavior. And a continued barrage of ethical issues is being thrust upon businesses and churches by the pervasiveness of sexual harassment, religious prejudice, and ethnic discrimination.
Therefore, due to the dynamic and strategic nature of ethics, let’s begin our investigation with a look at how ethics are practiced in the business world. We begin with the business realm, because is it the venue where most laypeople become acquainted with ethical decision making…
Download the rest of the chapter here > Ethics_Whitesel_10.09.
[i] Geoffrey P. Lantos, “Motivating Moral Behavior,” Journal of Consumer Marketing (Arvada, Colorado: np, 1999), Vol. 16, No. 3, p. 222.
[ii] Fred R. David, Strategic Management: Concepts and Cases, op. cit., p. 20.