December 14, 1996

Making Evaluation

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I remember the very first time I used a GPS. I had flown into Washington, D.C., and had very little time to spare. The rental car company I normally used was out of cars so I moved up and down the counter looking for anyone who had an unclaimed vehicle. Alas, one car left. But it was going to be more expensive because it had this new contraption called a Magellan Never Lost system.

I thought to myself, this could really work out well. Washington, D.C., is one of those cities that I find enormously confusing to drive in. I’m normally very good with directions and road sense, but D.C. just turns me around.

I had four back-to-back meetings spread out all over the city. But no fear, I had the smooth-talking electronic gadget-guide telling me exactly when to turn, merge or redirect. No thinking, just steering. Magellan was doing all the brain work.

What would it be like to have a moral GPS unit? Let’s call it a Golden Compass of sorts. It could evaluate our current ethical position and provide direction for us to get to our goal of the good, the right, and the true. The Power of One is the moral compass. It can give us all the direction and guidance we need for the journey.

Why do we need a Moral GPS? Check out the following benefits of the Golden Compass:

We find ourselves lost!
We look up and things don’t look familiar anymore. We’re not longer in the world of black-and-white behavior, but somewhere in that shadowy gray area of ethical choices. When we’re lost in the depths of subjectivity and rationalization, the Golden Compass can give us an objective point of view, showing our placement in the situation and our true motivation for the actions we’re planning to take. Knowing this information helps us make clearer decisions.

We get confused and overwhelmed!
Many times we are thrust into situations that overwhelm us. When he was sentenced to jail for the Watergate scandal, Jeb Stuart Magruder said, “Somewhere between my ambition and my ideals, I lost my ethical compass. I found myself on a path that had not been intended for me by my parents or by my principles or by my own ethical instincts. It has led me to this courtroom.” Magruder, as well as many of us, would be well-served to pull out the Golden Compass in times like this.

We get stuck in the ditch.
None of us are immune from falling in a ditch and needing a boost to get out. As a matter of fact, we all fall sometime, somewhere. The big question will then be: will you stay in the ditch and sink deeper or do you regroup, reset your coordinates, and climb back in the race? With a Golden Compass, you’ll get going again a lot quicker—and back on the right track, too.

We forget our original plan and get distracted.
A good start sometimes gets sidetracked. Many times we start very clear but somewhere along the journey we lose our lighthouse. It’s not enough just to start the good fight; you must end the good fight well, too.

Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.—John F. Kennedy

We need to know what is true, right, and good!
Many times an ethical decision comes down to doing the right thing regardless of the cost. The Golden Compass helps us clearly see the right thing to do. Let’s face it, we live in a relativistic society. Truth is sometimes hazy. Even someone desiring to do the right thing may have trouble determining what the right thing truly is! The Golden Compass always points to the truth. Our job is to follow its direction.

People, like nails, lose their effectiveness when they lose direction and begin to bend. —Walter Savage Landor

Knowing where you are and where you need to go often isn’t enough. You also need to know how to get there. The Golden Compass acts as a guide to get us to our destination. As we navigate the world of ethical choices, we have a consistent direction to choose to treat others as we want to be treated. These directions lead us home every time. But we have to make sure our compass works first.

For example, in the recent Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Jack Sparrow is the bad pirate who turns out to be a helpful mate once the movie takes sail. He shows up with a pistol carrying only one bullet, an antique triangle leather hat, and a compass that doesn’t work.

An early scene shows a member of the British Royal Navy looking over Sparrow’s paltry assembly of worldly goods, and starts the humorous development of the captain’s swagger. He says looking down his nose to Jack, “What kind of captain has a compass that doesn’t even work?” And then the line appears that goes throughout the movie, “You are undoubtedly the worst pirate I have ever seen.” That line is repeated until the end of the movie when Captain Jack has his compass out skillfully navigating the Black Pearl through treacherous shark-infested, ship-carcass-filled waters. It is written into the scene the obvious assumption that typical navigational instruments are not enough to guide a ship through the cove Captain Jack is creeping through. It is hard to see that scene without flashbacks of the repeated line, “You are undoubtedly the worst pirate I have seen.”

Leaders must have an ethical compass. They must be able to steer their lives and the lives of those around them through the dangerous rocks.

A friend and I just spent the lunch hour talking through a big decision. He had one of the biggest decisions of his career to make. At the end of the lunch he said, “This is more about a decision of the heart than a decision of the head. I need an extraordinary guidance system to navigate this decision. The Golden Compass can be that kind of instrument.”

1. Do you have an internal moral compass that can help you when your decision has to be ruled from the heart not just the head?

2. Why are ethical decisions sometimes a little hazy?

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