Baby Boomers Can Teach Much on Ethics

Recently I found myself thinking about a very good longtime friend of mine, a fellow boomer living in Seattle, Washington. This friend is a retired Boeing executive, a professor, and one of the premier experts in the field of corporate ethics.

After leading the Boeing company for many years, my friend has continued working as an ethics consultant, expanding his brand of professionalism across the nation. Globally, he assists many Fortune 500 companies and governments.

As I reflect on the many loose actions of individuals that we’ve witnessesed, and seen recently spotlighted in the news, I thought of this retired executive. This honorable man’s unparalleled reputation in corporate ethics, his profound sense of honor and duty, as well as his attention to always doing the right thing, make him excellent example of what’s needed in America today.

Ethics violations take many forms, but the simple answer to a complex issue is the idea that just doing the right thing in your daily life, based on common sense, makes ethics an easier formula to understand. Gray areas, versus those which are black and white, in corporate life, can be a slippery slope. However, if you have to explain the justification of your actions in great detail, this should probably send up a red flag.

Corporations, especially since the 1980s, have expended and exhausted increasingly more resources in dealing dealing with, for example, relationships between managers and their subordinates.

During the 1980s many major corporations actually engaged in conducting robust ethics training for employees. The ethics eduhcation programs seemingly to be most successful were built around three main pillars. The first was the ethics of money. This involved the standards that corporations used to dictate for the relationship with their customers — especially when the client was the federal government.

The second was in the area of managerial responsibility. This was highlighted by the way your treated each and every person — equally; dealing mostly with race, gender, and pay.

Thirdly, there was the employee code of conduct. Remember the phrase, “Nothing good happens late at night”? This was a good frame of reference for what you did with clients, prospects, and your own employees — an interaction key to the strict standards of business relationships, those which will never serve a corporate employee adversely. It assists those in corporate life from going astray.

Of course, to address this topic without mentioning the happenings on Capitol Hill would be irresponsible. It’s amazing to the average American that so many of our congressional representatives have failed to uphold the ideals of their oaths of office.

News outlets tend to suggest that it’s cultural issues causing most of the improprieties occurring in the movie industry, universities, the sports world, and in all other walks of life — including media outlets themselves.

That is no excuse for congressional members to abuse their power.

A gentleman, should be a gentleman, no matter what their vocation. It’s particularly glaring when sexual misconduct takes place in the halls of Congress. Of course baby boomers will tell you that this is no recent phenomenon. The difference now, baby boomers will share with you, is that in years past there was a culture that included “sweeping misconduct under the rug.”

Those born between the 1940s and 1960s will additionally point out that common courtesy and manners, as well as the way people interact with one another, have experienced a major shift.

We live in different times — fast times, in which the 24- hour news-cycle does not even exist anymore. People are always on their phones, in hurry, and not stopping to smell the roses. Thus, bad conduct becomes more pronounced, stories and rumors spread, and things get posted on social media. Allegations bubble up immediately. This is not meant to suggest that everything was better years ago. But when you discuss these issues with boomers, they point out that an adult should know right from wrong, that there should be consequences for bad behavior.

This brings us back to the central issue of ethics. One might argue that you feel better when you achieve something without cheating; that you do not have to be loved by your employees, but you do need to be respected; that ethics, is not just a term — but a way of life.

I have a lot of respect for the Boeing executive whom I cited at the beginning of this column. I know the man, and have witnessed him in action in corporate settings. I have also watched him write and teach ethics. What I have observed from this astute baby boomer and ethics leader, is that it is always better to do what is right — not what is wrong.

Rick Bava founded and was CEO of the Bava Group, which became the premier communications consulting firm serving the Fortune 500 community. Bava became known for his popular blog columns “Rick Bava on the Baby Boomer Generation.” He is the author of “In Search of the Baby Boomer Generation.” For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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