In 2022 it was my pleasure to present this topic on Ethics and others like it to over 10,000 CPAs, attorneys, business owners, and others. Here is a shortened version of what is a one hour to two hour course with breakouts addressing ethical questions that I hope will inspire you to think more ethically for 2023. Besides contemporary research I also cite these five books for the foundation of this topic. These are: 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership by Linda Fisher Thornton and four of my books Peaceful Resolutions, The Servant Manager, The Collaboration Effect, and Business Valuations and the IRS: Five Books in One.

Three of the keys to leading by example are:

  1. Catch your employees doing something right at least once a week and thank them for something specific
  2. Get them the resources they need from their perspective, and don’t micromanage
  3. Give them a chance to shine through accomplishment and leadership.

Keep in mind that ethical leadership is a journey, a business advantage, and an ethical responsibility. When you think of ethical attributes you may think about characteristics such as honesty, integrity, empathy, caring and concern for others, civic duty, fairness, loyalty, respect for others, personal accountability, promise-keeping, and pursuit of excellence as example ethical attributes.


Ethical Responsibilities


For someone in business with clients or customers you have an ethical responsibility to address profit, law, character, people, communities, the planet, and the greater good.  Let’s take a quick  look at each of these.


If you don’t make a profit you don’t stay in business. Your business has to turn a profit in order to survive. The question is at what cost or concerns to stakeholders must you make a profit?


Is the focus avoiding penalties rather than honoring principles? Do you need to reach beyond laws and regulations?


Do you demonstrate concerns for people and respecting differences? Do you demonstrate caring about people and avoiding harm? Do you hire for character and diversity and then ensure an inclusive caring environment for everyone?


Hire for character and train for competence, not the other way around. You want employees grounded in integrity and morality values. This should be demonstrated by thought, words, and deeds. Is everyone setting an example for everyone else?


Is there concern for communities and helping those in need? Is there an interest in serving others in society? Do you see a greater good with you and your employees giving back to the community?


Are you doing business that is sustainable? Are you concerned about conserving natural resources? Does your firm focus on respecting life and nature? How does your firm address the bigger global issues?

Greater Good:

Are you grounded in the long term greater good focusing on benefiting society and future generations (7 generations taken from many indigenous tribes in North America) to make this world a better place regardless of anyone’s religious or racial background?

In today’s world the most successful companies pause, step back, and ask questions like these. What they have found is that all stakeholders (clients, customers, vendors, shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders) are consciously making decisions based on these seven ethical responsibilities. Do you see that ethical expectations are changing? Are you changing with society? Your potential future workers are expecting that you are.


Four Broad Ethical Questions:


In a live or virtual session participants may break out into small groups and are given one of several scenarios to discuss. Here is an example of four scenarios in bullet form to give you an idea of the discussion topics:

Truth versus Loyalty:  

Would you tell a lie and save life? Would you give up your integrity to save a friend?

Individual versus Community:

Is it right for you or someone to give up his or life for the greater good of the community?

Short Term versus Long Term:

Should you buy a classier car now or save more for retirement?

Justice versus Mercy:

Justice is blind, but mercy never is. Which should govern and why?

Each of the scenarios is actually a paragraph or two and takes a few minutes to read and then there are some tough questions to answer that the group works on and discusses. Others hear different perspectives from their own and begin to see how someone else may be able to raise ideas and concerns they had not thought about. That is the way it is with many tougher ethical issues.

Unless we know more about the other party and truly listen to them, your biases and beliefs may well override your values and understanding of all of the facts. In order to obtain better insight, it is necessary to build trust with the other party.  Here are


Six Pillars of Trust for Your Consideration


  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Demonstrate compassion by remaining calm, competent, and confident
  3. Demonstrate character by doing the right thing
  4. Be committed to your employees and customers as a servant leader
  5. Engage with your employees sharing your insights, inviting them to share with you, and listen actively
  6. Be consistent with everyone


Relationships with Your Subordinates


What would they say about you?

Are you there to help?

Can you be trusted?

Do you know the organization?

Do you know the job technically?

Are you there to coach?

Who can guide a given task?

Are we in this together?


We Are In This Together


Try skillful questioning and listening actively in order to understand. Don’t blame. Avoid the two stinky twins of BO and BS. That is Blaming Others and Blaming Self. Don’t blame anyone. Stay focused on the problem.

Instead of feedback focus on feedforward. What are we going to do together to prevent this from happening in the future. Help the other party figure it out.

When you screw up admit it and apologize. An apology has three parts.

  • I am sorry, I screwed up
  • I feel badly I hurt you, I won’t do it again
  • What can I do to make this right? Be prepared to act


Apply The Collaboration Effect


The Collaboration Effect® is all about connecting relationships, listening actively, and educating judiciously. The Collaboration Effect text elaborates on these concepts. A pocket guide summarizing key elements is available as a downloaded PDF. In summary, connecting relationships is all about building connecting, authentic relationships with others; listening actively means paraphrasing, summarizing, empathizing, and asking open ended questions without passing judgment or offering advice; and education judiciously involves educating the other person the way they want to be educated and not telling them what you want them to know.

Hopefully this quick, short commentary on how to lead by example may help you.

Have a fun, enlightened, healthy, prosperous, and happy new year.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]