An Example of Ethics (or not!) in Business

Posted on January 3, 2011

This Intelligent Disobedience blog entry was contributed by Marjolein Towler. Thanks MT!

Have you ever been faced with a decision to do something that is in your best interest, and is not directly hurting anyone, but is not entirely above board either? Ever been in that position?

Recently we had to deal with a client who put us in the unenviable position of having to witness what we considered unethical behaviour. We were contracted to deliver a feasibility study for a program of work. A lot of work and thought and research went into it. The program under scrutiny had many great features, but there were issues of sustainability. We sent our client regular updates and slowly but certainly he started to change the document and the proposed direction for the program. We produced a Feasibility Study for internal use and our client changed it into a Business Case for external use, essentially making it a sales document. Our concern was that the resulting document was selling something that we did not believe would be successful in its proposed form. We knew that from our research. It was a classic case of “you are not telling me what I want to hear.” We had a contract to produce a deliverable, and we did so. However, there was no contract stipulation restricting our client from altering the deliverable after we presented it to him. Our solution? We satisfied our contract. We also have made a decision not to ever do business with this client again.

We undoubtedly are suffering a financial impact because of this decision. However, we strive to follow our moral compass; it is as relevant in business as in any other part of life. Not having one (or ignoring the compass you have) might give you short term advantages, but in the long run, it will cost you dearly through the loss of respect and credibility.

Whether you work for someone or run your own business, ultimately it is your own moral compass that needs to guide you. There will be times where you are placed in a situation you are unable to change or influence sufficiently at the time. However, being aware of what is happening and seeing it for what it truly is – behaviour you cannot condone – will be essential for business or project decisions you will make in the future.

Are you “tolerating” behaviours you should address on your projects? In your business environment? In your personal life?

Intelligent disobedience often means being authentic to our ethical standards, and true to your “self.” Intelligent Disobedience Leadership provides workshops, coaching and consulting with a focus on courageous leadership through intelligent disobedience. We can help you and your teams design a community of practice which leverages constructive “intelligent disobedience.” For further information, email us at