How to be a Business Leader of Principle


Car companies cutting corners on safety in order to make more profit.

Workers suffer horrible working conditions overseas so we can have cheap cell phones.

Toxic waste dumped illegally.

Forests clear-cut for hardwood furniture.

Corrupt business principles like these have seemingly always been with us. As the saying goes, “it has ever been thus.” However, as egregious as some of the above practices are, they do not happen overnight. CEO’s are not sitting in boardrooms fingers steepled plotting how to abuse workers and world alike. Poor leadership principles working over time lead companies to operate in unethical ways. Small corners cut lead to bigger risks taken and before you know it large consequential and unethical choices are made.

How do we avoid these traps of unethical leadership decisions? The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus writing over 2,000 years ago gave this piece of advice.

You must know that it is no easy thing for a principle to become a man’s own, unless each day he maintain it and hear it maintained, as well as work it out in life. ~ The Golden Sayings of Epictetus.

If recent history has taught us anything, it is that business principles and ethics matter. Unfortunately, we have always struggled to live by the high standard we want to set for ourselves. So should we give up? Should we succumb to the thought that since mankind has always fallen short of its own principles we shouldn’t bother trying? Of course not.

What Epictetus is saying is that if we want to live by our principles then we need to practice them. Every day. So what are some principles that the modern business person should strive to attain?  I recommend the following list as a Top Ten in terms of business principles:

  1. Honesty
  2. Integrity
  3. Loyalty
  4. Fairness
  5. Respect for others
  6. Law abiding
  7. Commitment to excellence
  8. Leadership
  9. Reputation
  10. Accountability

If thinking about trying to practice and implement ten principles is too daunting a task to start with, then just start with one, the most important one- accountability. Don’t pass the buck. Don’t assume it is someone else’s problem to worry about. Take accountability for what lays within your sphere of influence and do you best. This alone will go a long way towards making you a person of principle.

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