Business Ethics: Ethical Foundations

“Yes, of course!” This is the answer for a great deal of professionals if they are ethical. Yet, even the best professional speakers struggle with ethical dilemmas and, sometimes, land on the wrong side of ethical decisions and behavior with their ethical practices.

Your professional reputation is about who you are, what you do, and how you do it. It takes seconds to create a first impression, months to sculpt a reputation, and an instant to destroy it. What do colleagues, clients, and vendors say about you and your business activities to your face and behind your back?

Each industry offers their own code of ethics, code of conduct, set of ethical principles, cultural codes, Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), Standard Operating Guidelines (SOGs), state statutes, federal laws, and international laws. Each organization has its employee handbook, cultural codes, and practices that supports their official corporate social responsibility initiatives.

We look at ethical foundations, some commonly respected ethical guidelines across industries and organizational cultures, and explore why we choose unethical behavior.


“You wear your choice on your face. Take a look.”            —Beba G. Gurri

My father loved America, the Pope, and Sears. As naturalized citizens, my parents, Joseph N. Gurri, MD and Beba G. Gurri instilled in the four Gurri children the importance of giving back in gratitude for the freedom afforded us by the USA, our adopted country.

His ethical foundations were simple, not easy. His motto, “Just do the right thing.” provided guidance. He believed that acting honorably was part of our obligation to create a better world.

Everyone receives unique ethical foundations from family, faith and educational communities, and global experiences. These values inform our choices in good times and bad, in the short-term and the long-term.


Ethics are society’s effort to understand the effect of morality and moral standards on our conduct. Ethics provide a way to know what the “right thing” to do is when it counts the most.

Ethics exist because good behavior does not always pay. Ironically, in the real world, virtue is not always the easiest course toward tangible reward. As seen so often in the news, illegal and unethical behavior often pays well.

Vows, pledges, oaths, promises, policies, agreements, and procedures are formal ethical guidelines. Informal guidelines or social mores usually go unwritten and are often unspoken. When we cross a cultural more, we know it from the disapproval expressed by others. Talk during a movie; other viewers nearby quickly advise you verbally and nonverbally that you have violated a commonsense ethical code of conduct.

Effective corporate governance invites, support, and stimulate colleagues to work within agreed-upon guidelines for conduct that serve the greater good. While virtue is no guarantee of success, it is a necessary foundation for it.

A strong ethical foundation is especially important for leaders who impact communities globally and locally. What we say and how we say it matters. Ethical leaders motivate, innovate, and offer perspective to individuals and organizations, creating ethical strategies for achieving excellence. Ethical leadership strengthens our own bottom line, that of our clients, and that of the economy.

Ethical Professionals rely on bylaws and professional codes of ethics to establish and maintain a reputation for professionalism and integrity. Knowledge of and adherence to professional codes are conditions of National Speakers Association membership. These codes of ethics set standards to further the reputation of each speaker, the association, and the speaking industry.

Committing to ethical behavior as members of a premier organization for professional speakers makes us stronger personally and professionally, and fosters pleasant, meaningful, successful lives and relationships.


“Virtue is its own reward.” Case studies and common sense have shown that organizations committed to the highest standards of conduct and ethics produce superior results.

One of my favorite entrepreneurs is speaker Ruby Newell-Legner, CSP, an expert in 7 Star Service. Ruby knows that reaching for and achieving high standards creates superior service and stellar reputations.

“Our ethical behavior reflects who we are as a person–both personally and professionally. Our actions as professional speakers form our reputation and impact our future. How we conduct business earns the respect of our colleagues and clients … or creates a negative reputation. When conducting business and making decisions as speakers, we must always do the right thing in the right way to maintain positive character, high integrity and an ethical reputation.”


Six simple and practical guidelines are posed by George May to discern the ethical choice. Before you act, ask yourself about:

1. Values. Does your action follow the spirit of the law or principle?
2. Conscience. Can you justify your action to yourself or someone you respect?
3. Rules. How does your planned action fit with policies and procedures?
4. Laws. Is the action legal?
5. Heroes. How would your hero act? Would he or she blame others?
6. Promises. Will your action live up to your promises? Will it build trust?


The history of ethics and the law is all about boundaries; fairness; protecting individuals and groups from harm; and preventing conflicts of interest, fraud, and theft. Consider the overlap between ethics and the legal code. Ethics are based on a higher level of expectation for conduct; the law is the lowest level of conduct expected by society or a group.What is acceptable to do or not to do, say, or not say?

Professionals are bound by local, national, and international laws; active contracts; and laws that apply to their chosen professions. The following are some key laws and legal principles that help guide speakers to choose ethical actions, interactions, and communications on their path toward excellence:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Breach of Contract or Duty
  • Client Information and Confidentiality
  • Code of Ethics and Statutes for Public Officers and Employees
  • Copyright Infringement
  • Defamation
  • Discrimination Complaint Procedures and Laws
  • Diversity Management
  • Employment Practices
  • Environmental Issues
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
  • Ethical Business & Management Practices
  • Fraud Laws
  • Harassment Laws
  • Harm to a Person’s Dignity
  • Hostile Workplace Laws
  • International Business Laws
  • Negligence and Misconduct
  • Quid Pro Quo Laws
  • Political Involvement
  • Professional Licensure
  • Sexual Conduct and Harassment
  • Social Media and Media Practices
  • Vendor Relationships
  • Violence and Other Intentional Wrongs Against Other People


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