Thursday, November 7, 2013

Getting a Code of Your Own

When it comes to talking about ethics, there is one interesting concept I haven’t seen discussed a great deal: What is an “ethical practitioner?” Or, more broadly, “How do we define an ethical person?”

Many people I’ve known and respected over the years have developed, over time, a personal code of their own.

Perhaps the most famous personal code belongs to Benjamin Franklin. If you’d like an in-depth discussion of Franklin’s 13 Virtues and how to have a virtuous life, just Google “Benjamin Franklin virtues” and lots of information will come up. Here are his 13 Virtues:
  1. Temperance
  2. Silence
  3. Order
  4. Resolution
  5. Frugality
  6. Industry
  7. Sincerity
  8. Justice
  9. Moderation
  10. Cleanliness
  11. Tranquility
  12. Chastity
  13. Humility
Mr. Franklin actively lived these virtues, practicing one per month, and writing about his virtuosity in Poor Richard’s Almanac. There were originally 12 virtues, but later in his life, according to his biographer, as Benjamin Franklin became more popular, more well-known and a world figure, one of his friends came to him one day, so the story goes, and suggested that Benjamin needed to add a 13th virtue to his list. And that virtue was: Humility. Mr. Franklin, it’s reported, added it to the list and actively practiced and wrote about his acts of humility.

But the question remains, how does one develop a code of their own? The PRSA Code covers the ethical practices of public relations. There are other codes already in existence that are extremely helpful; the Ten Commandments come to mind. But the main point is to have thought through for yourself the components of your life that make you an ethical person.

Knowing your own code helps to actually determine and be able to explain the key ingredients of your ethical personality. In my judgment, these include:
  1. Integrity: A code of moral principles to which you ascribe and adhere, and can actually explain.
  2. Trustworthiness: People feel safe around you, protected, comfortable.
  3. Selflessness: You are always acting from someone else’s perspective, for their best interests, from their point-of-view.
  4. Verbal Vision: You speak and think in the context of tomorrow and moving forward, rather than focusing on those negative things that happened yesterday.
  5. Candor: Truth, with an attitude, delivered promptly. Candor is a behavior that builds trust. Lack of candor is a behavior that corrodes trust.
What Do Ethical People Do Each Day?

They are:
  • Counselors: meaning they teach, they coach, they act to be wise and share their wisdom.
  • Pragmatists: suggesting the doable, suggesting the achievable, suggesting the getable, suggesting the learnable, helping people get what matters to them done.
  • Truth-seekers: understanding the individual emotions of truth, as well as the factors and data that accompany circumstances.
  • Occasionally, a Dutch Uncle (when needed): This behavior is carried out by someone who cares enough about others that they tell them the truth continuously, directly and helpfully.
  • Constructive Doubters: ask useful, helpful questions that probe and build understanding for the future, to help focus people and ideas forward.
How Do You Go About Getting a Code of Your Own?

Start with questions you need to ask yourself, then write down answers to discuss with yourself, and perhaps others you trust.
  1. What do you believe in? Write it down.
  2. Who are you? Write it down.
  3. What are your personal limits? Write them down.
  4. What are your aspirations? Write them down.
  5. What are your principles? Write them down.
  6. What are your virtues? Write them down.
  7. What are your daily intentions, as a communicator, as a member of society, as a family member, and in other roles you play? Write them down.
  8. What is your destiny? Where are you headed? And how, specifically, do you intend to get there? Why? Write it down.
While all of this seems a bit complex and complicated, I think you’ll find the exercises I’m describing here extremely helpful, personally clarifying, and appropriate as you strive to be an ethical person, an ethical practitioner, and live an ethical life.

If you have questions, or would like to know more about developing your own personal code, you can reach me 24/7 at I look forward, as a friend and colleague, to helping you achieve the objectives you’ve set for having an ethical life.

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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Blogger Kellie Garrett said...

Congrats, Jim. Fantastic article on ethics!

November 9, 2013 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Mike Gips said...

This fits in perfectly with the qualities of an effective leader.

November 19, 2013 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Mike Gips said...

Jim, your message fits in nicely as a component of good leadership.

November 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Frances Strong said...

So relevant right now. And as usual, so accurate and concise. Thank you, Jim.

November 19, 2013 at 3:41 PM  

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