November 5, 1999


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Daniel easily could have blended in with his surroundings and gone along with everything his leaders asked him to do. But he had developed a warehouse of moral convictions, so he was able to make the right choices when he came to the ethical intersections of his life. A moral warehouse is an inventory bank that you have built in your own system, a clear understanding between right and wrong that helps guide your decisions. To build this warehouse you need to create a series of beliefs and convictions that are more deeply rooted than passing opinions. An opinion is something I hold, whereas a conviction is something that holds me.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.–Abraham Lincoln

Besides creating a moral warehouse you also need to practice modeling your ethical behavior. As the saying goes, you have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. A friend reminded me of the huge role that modeling plays in practicing the Power of One:

“As a parent I have learned that my children notice what I do more often than they hear what I say. For instance, I heard my wife correcting my daughter the other day about the way she put on her new shoes. It seems that she tied them once and then slipped them off only to shove her foot into them again without untying them. When her foot got stuck she just stomped really hard a few times until the back of the shoe buckled and caved inwards. My wife reminded her that she was ruining her brand-new shoes and to put them on properly. I didn’t enter into the discussion.

“A few days later I was going to take my little girl somewhere and I slipped on my lace-up shoes. My daughter said, ‘Dad I like to put my shoes on like you do, without untying them, but mom won’t let me.’ She learned by watching me. I never sat her down to show her how to put on her shoes. She just picked it up from me. I was reminded of a valuable lesson: More is caught than is taught! I might even venture out to say that if I had tried to teach her this, she would have refused to do it.”

More is caught than is taught. This is true in a home setting and it is true in a corporate setting. New employees tiptoe past the values that are posted on the company walls and begin operating with the same values that are modeled by the management of a company. More is caught than taught. That is irrefutably and sobering.

I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it promises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe if an organization is to meet the challenge of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.–Thomas Watson, Jr. IBM

We can stand up for what we believe in without necessarily standing out in the crowd. Living ethically doesn’t mean that we have to be the self-appointed whistle blower of all wrongs and discretions but that we mark our commitment to the good, the right, and the true in appropriate and effective means. And it means that we don’t have to grandstand on every moral issue—it’s not about making a scene and making sure everyone knows we’re doing the right thing. It’s just about doing it; if others observe your right actions, all the better. The Power of One is maximized when the Golden Rule becomes who you really are and not just a choice you try to make.

Let me give you some guidelines to standing up without always standing out. Of course, you won’t always be able to use these. Sometimes the ethical leak happens fast and unannounced and you have to perform an on-the-spot response with no time for thinking through the situation. However, most of the time you’ll be able to work through this process to make the right decisions.

Give us clear vision that we may know where to stand and what to stand for—because unless we stand for something, we shall fall for anything. –Peter Marshall

1. Think things through ahead of time. A clear mind is critical to standing up for your convictions. Try your best to see the situation from as many angles a s possible, and make sure there’s really a moral violation taking place and not just a personal rub before speaking out.

I have a friend who uses one probing question to get to the bottom of ethical dilemmas: He asks the other party, usually in a business situation, what principles are driving them to make the decisions they’re making—decisions that are often unethical and outright wrong. This allows my friend to gather data as well as learn the behind-the-scenes thoughts that prompted the other party to try to involve him in the situation at hand.

2. Remove the emotion. Although emotions are helpful in many situations, now’s not the time. Instead make your decision issues-oriented. Generally when it come to standing up for our beliefs, we’ve enveloped ourselves in a situation that is full of emotion. Doing so can also trigger us to say things that we really didn’t mean to say or say things in the wrong way.

Another danger we may face is the danger of becoming fixed on the fight and losing the target. Many fighters lose the cause and get too involved in the notion of a good fight. Managing the emotions usually will help keep this problem in check.

It is often easier to fight for a principle than to live up to it.—Adlai Stevenson

3. Identify your approach to standing up. How will you approach the situation? With a carefully worded letter or note? A one-on-one meeting with your boss or other involved parties? Will you make an announcement at the annual meeting? Or simply give the person a call? Different situations call for different responses. Analyze them carefully, and make sure you’re directing your response to the right person. Don’t call up the Chief Executive Officer when a mid-level manager could solve the problem; conversely, don’t fire off a letter to a store clerk who holds no power, when you’d be better off writing to the store owner or district manager.

Solomon, in writing the book of Ecclesiastes, made a reference that most of us have heard, perhaps only at a funeral. He said there is a time for everything. He then went on to outline a list of life events that prove that. His point was that everything had its right time. In the matter of standing up without always standing out there is an appropriate time for different responses:
● A time to overlook
● A time to whisper
● A time to scream
● A time to confront
● A time to fight.

Picking the right response is critical to getting your point across.

4. Talk it over with a friend. Get a friend’s angle on the issue and see whether you’re thinking straight and seeing clearly. Ask for an honest response, a different perspective, from your friend, and consult several trusted advisors if it will help. We all have blind spots and need somewhere with a different vantage to give us their thoughts and perspective.

5. Practice basic good manners. In other words, don’t scream and say things that really aren’t relevant to the situation. Use appropriate speaking and listening skills. I will never forget a friend making a comment about a certain group of people. He said, “They are usually right in their orthodoxy, they are just so darn mean. I just don’t like working with them. Let’s go with someone else if possible.”

6. Decide ahead of time what you’re willing to lose. Are you willing to lose your job? What about your short-term reputation? How about friends? Will you walk away from retirement and all the securities connected with that? Can you handle a heated frank conversation? Decide upfront what your convictions are worth to you, then stick to them.

The story is told that Henry Thoreau, a rugged New England individualist of the 19th century, once went to jail instead of paying his poll taxes to a state that supported slavery. Thoreau’s good friend Ralph Waldo Emerson hurried to visit him in jail. Peering through the bars, he exclaimed, “Why Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “Nay, Ralph, the question is what you are doing out there?

7. Anticipate the possible responses. Don’t overplay chess with this but it does help to spend a little time anticipating what kind of response you will get. Thinking through the enemy’s response has always been a favorite strategic move in the battle. As one anonymous sage said, “The enemies a person makes by taking a stand will have more respect for him than the friends he makes by being on the fence.”

8. Write out a script. Crafting the problem and solution on paper will help bring precision and focus. Write out possible questions that you could use to help the conversation stay under control and on target.

I have found the greatest help in meeting any problems with decency and self-respect and whatever courage is demanded is to know where you yourself stand. That is, to have in words what you believe and are acting from.–William Faulkner

9. Take your courage vitamin, pray, and make a stand. If all signs point toward stand, then get up there and stand for your beliefs. Just make sure you’ve thought it through carefully and are ready to face come what may.

Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it convert itself into conduct.—Thomas Carlyle

We need wisdom to sort and sift all the elements of life that come at us. Fred Holloman, former chaplain to the Kansas Senate, prayed one day at the opening of the session: “Omniscient Father. Help us to know who is telling the truth. One side tells us one thing and the other side just the opposite. And if neither side is telling the truth, we would like to know that too. And if each is telling half the truth give us the wisdom to put the right halves together.”

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