Ethics can be measured by your level of desire to consider the needs of others and place them ahead of your own. Although ethics are described as a set of rules and measures of conduct, that ignores the reason for encouraging ethical behavior. Rules and conduct are necessary but the heart of ethics is serving others. It is the intentional act of carefully considering the impact of your actions on the lives of the customer, their family, their friends and their community. Ethics involves intention, attitude and perseverance.
Her name was Anne. She was a waitress working in a small town Northern California. Sitting in her tiny apartment, she explained to me that she had cancer and asked if I could help her with her insurance claim. The hospital told her they couldn’t help and proceeded to bill her for several thousand dollars of treatment that should have been paid by the insurance company; my company.
After a week of phone calls, talking to administrators and the claims department, the hospital promptly sent Anne a check for the money she had already paid as well as taking care of the hospital bill for her. No one at the hospital meant to act unethically but their level of desire to help Anne with her unique situation was low. They had thousands of patients and Anne was just one more.
The hospital staff did not intend to treat Anne unethically and their attitude toward her was respectful and well meaning, but they failed due to their lack of persistence. They stopped before finding out what went wrong with her insurance policy or where the money went. As it turns out, my company had sent them prompt payment and they kept it without crediting her bill because someone had made a clerical error.
The damage of unethical behavior can be described by picturing a pebble thrown into a pond. Even the smallest object will create a wake that ripples and grows until it touches every inch of the shore, leaving nothing unaffected by the smallest act.
The goal of ethical behavior should be viewed as the sacred responsibility of leaving no negative wakes. Everything we do has a greater impact on the people and communities we live in than we may consider. It is an even greater impact when you have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the people you serve get the help they need. Intention is the easiest part of ethics and attitude is the simplest.
It’s perseverance that often separates the smallest decisions that have the greatest impact. The level of desire to help others can mean the difference between a negative wake that affects your reputation and the industry, and the positive wake of helping people like Anne.