The Business of Ethics in the Workplace

Ethics in Action

Vision, Reality, Courage, and Ethics – Balanced Business requires balanced thinking

Business demands of us our full attention. Business forces us to acknowledge our talents, our fears, our aspirations and our shadow side. Personal mastery and even greatness come when we integrate ourselves both at a personal level and in the broader context.

Peter Koestenbaum’s theory is that greatness happens when there is a balance between vision, reality, courage, and ethics – or at least when we become skilled in being able to discern when to use which aspect of thinking in dealing with a specific situation.

Business Ethics: balancing vision, reality, courage & empathy

The important thing to accept is that all four styles of thinking need to be present in order for there to be balance.

  • Ethics without courage would fall into sentimentality.
  • Courage without ethics would result in bullying.
  • Reality without vision makes for a dry and empty life.
  • Vision without reality devolves into madness.

Coping with Change

In today’s age, change is our constant companion. This constant change requires that we access ‘greatness’ within ourselves to face the change. The reason is that there are fewer and fewer certainties in dealing with these changes.

There are no maps.

There are only principles of how to negotiate the next few steps.

So we not only require courage in making the decision, but we also need as much information as possible. In other words, we need a clear understanding of reality. Furthermore, we need to be clear about what our final goal is (vision). But we need to do it all with care, respect, and integrity for ourselves and for those that are on the journey with us. The sum of care, respect, and integrity is the foundation of what we think of as ethical behaviour.

Because uncertainty can create a sense of fear that paralyses, we need to choose a life-affirming approach to our journey.  

To quote Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette,

“But let us not surrender our lives! Let us find the spontaneity and joy of life inside ourselves. Then not only will we live our lives more abundantly, but we will enable others to live, perhaps for the first time in their lives.”

The Role of Work in the Work of Life

Work gives all of us the opportunity to explore our potential to its full extent within a community.

If this work community is supportive, the result is one of collaboration. The result is what we commonly term a “win-win” environment.

In a less ‘enlightened’ work community, on the other hand, the work experience would be characterised by distrust, unhealthy competition, open hostility between departments, and dysfunction between management and the workforce.

Both of these environments could give rise to the same articulated values and therefore ethical framework. However, the implementation and experience of those same values would be very different in the two environments.

This begs an important question:

Even though there is a clear case for ethics in business, what are the business and psychological drivers that will create a successful implementation of ethics?

Work IS Life

Picture the work environment as an organic system. I have used this approach throughout the articles in this series, and I will share an example of this systems thinking later, too. The example is my experience of the marketing system. Even so, the thought process has generic value across other business disciplines.

The systems approach to a business is not necessarily the only approach. The reason I value the approach is that, in my experience, it is the most accurate simulation of reality. To quote from a preliminary document entitled ‘Towards a More Humane and Dynamic Company’:

“According to ‘The law of organic totality’, in every living organism – including man and any other social group – the full and integral development of its various potentials and vital forces (including economic ones), depends on the harmonious functioning of the whole organism.

Therefore, if one member, one function, or one value is overexpanded to the detriment of any other, the vital imbalance that this engenders will, in the long run, inevitably result not only in the weakening and degeneration of the organism as a whole, but also in that of the particular member, function, or value which before seemed to have privileged position.  

Hence the urgent need to humanize the Company, taking into account the total vital reality of the worker as an individual, and of the community of which he forms a part.

Such a task must be undertaken, first and foremost, as a moral imperative, but also in the certainty that, in the long run, the more humane Company will also be the more efficient one, because it is the law of every living organism that the health and vitality of the whole reverts on each and every single function.”

This belief that a company is governed by the laws of an organic system is echoed by Richard Barrett in formulating the ‘Seven Levels of Organisational Consciousness,’ which is based on the hypotheses that “organisations are comprised of individuals who collectively act as living entities with similar motivations to those of the individuals.”  

Two Key Business Dynamics

There are two other dynamics that I believe are important in exploring ethics in the workplace.

Survival of the Fittest

The one is that most organisations are managed by men who have a personal consciousness that is dominated by their need to survive. Even though they may be extremely rich and or powerful, they still feel that their ‘cup is half full’. This is made manifest by the fact that so many of them are completely and solely motivated by profits.

The executive teams may articulate other goals to the press but boardroom discussions are invariably focused on the bottom line of profits and growth.

This executive state of being is a reflection of insecurity which may be the result of poor self-esteem. It therefore results in a need to control the entire economic process. The fear-driven authoritarian management approach creates an unhealthy work environment.  

Functional Fixes

The task in this situation is to heal this male energy, or assist men in becoming whole and integrating themselves. In their book, “King, Warrior, Magician and Lover”, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette explore Carl Jung’s male archetypes. Their position is that all four archetypes need to be fully represented in a man if he is to contribute his full potential to life and the organisation.

“None of them, (King, warrior, magician or lover), as we’ve suggested, works well alone; we need to mix with the Magician the King’s concern for generativety and generosity, the warrior’s ability to act decisively and with courage, and the lover’s deep and convinced connectedness to all things. We will then be using our knowledge, our containment, and our channelling of energy flows for human benefit and, perhaps, for the enhancement of the whole planet.”

My contention is that if masculine management teams do not heal themselves as individuals – or, at the very least, acknowledge that there is healing to be done – business decisions will be made out of personal ‘demons,’ and not as a result of mature and due deliberation which would result in the right decision for the business so as to ensure its sustainability.

(I have focused on maleness since they are still the dominate force in managing business.)

There are many other systems that use archetypes or similar to describe the process of integration. Richard Olivier and Robert Bly use stories to demonstrate the need for the integration of maleness and the healing of maleness. Peter Koestenbaum also has four thinking styles that need to find balance in order for ‘greatness’ to be achieved.

I have highlighted the need for healing and integration because, without it, the need for ethics, the role of ethics, and the impact of ethics will be severely diminished. Further, the resistance to ethics will be such that it is unlikely to ever succeed in an environment where maleness has not matured into its full potential.

Shadow Puppets

The other dynamic is the issue of an individual’s personal ‘shadow,’ and how this may extend to become the organisation’s shadow.  

In the book, “How to Befriend your Shadow,” by John Monbourqutte, he states

“An institution that cannot recognize its shadow will gradually begin to deviate from its goals. But, worse still, completely fascinated by its shadow, it will end up promoting the very thing it is trying to avoid.”


Business and the dynamics of business is a complicated subject. Ethics as a stand alone subject is complex. When one combines the two, the complexity is compounded. As a result of this complexity, one runs the risk of being overwhelmed while trying to document all the significant issues that relate to the topic.

Certainly, I have experienced as many questions as I have found answers. As I finished one reference book, it led me to the next and so on. I have, therefore, tried to create a platform from which I would answer the question, and that platform is summarised as follows:

  1. Individuals and organisations need to find balance between the facets of thinking. These facets are supportive of one another, bit none of them should be allowed to dominate, or the system becomes distorted and dysfunctional.
  2. There are complex psychological drivers that impact business and the implementation of ethics within business.
  3. The systems approach makes it possible to understand the interplay of events within the organisation.
  4. There are levels of consciousness within organisations, in much the same way as they apply within individuals.
  5. There is a lack of psychological integration in executives which results in distortions in the decision-making process. This is a possible reason for dissonance in organisations.
  6. And the last assumption is that organisations have a ‘shadow’, in much the same way as individuals do. This needs to be understood when an ethical framework is being implemented in an organisation.

Top Takeaway

The implementation of ethics within an organisation requires that a clear understanding of these dynamics be taken into account. This is necessary to ensure the greatest alignment in the effort of the individuals within the organisation in the implementation process.

All these dynamics do not need to be addressed simultaneously. however, they need to be understood and documented, so that the progress of the implementation of ethics within the organisation can be monitored with regard to these dynamics. Further, if the system fails to integrate the ethical framework, this allows an understanding of where the failure occurred and, in time, why it failed.


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