When I buried my grandfather 15 years ago in Guatemala, I was amazed at the people in attendance. There were folks from all walks of life— from community leaders and powerful businessmen to the poorest among them: a shoe-shine boy and an old beggar. My grandfather had been a successful entrepreneur, but what brought people to the burial that day was his integrity. He always did the right thing, even when it did not seem to make a lot of business sense.
As an entrepreneur, I know that doing the right thing can be hard, especially when there is constant pressure to create profit and remain competitive. It is easy to fall into having a short-term vision predicated on shortcuts and sneaky routes to success. I’ve learned that the only way to avoid falling for these unethical choices is to be deliberate about instilling the virtues of honesty, humility and generosity into your company. Here is how I learned to lay a foundation of ethics in my business:
I’m Honest With Myself
I try to stay self aware and truthful about my limitations and strengths. As an entrepreneur, it is tempting to be all things to all people. But being humble about your weaknesses allows you to delegate and trust others. In the long term, I’ve discovered it helps your business grow, even when you’re not in the picture.
I Put People First
An employee must be treated with respect and fairness. Aside from paying well, putting people first means investing in their professional and personal growth, even when it does not have a direct effect on the bottom line. At my company, I provide free English classes to all of my employees, including those who will not interact with our English-speaking clients. I know that doing so will create life-changing opportunities for the staff, even if it is not with my company.
I Try To Be Humble
I try my best to accept errors with humility. This is particularly important with clients. Assuming responsibility and working to solve problems leads to trust and longlasting relationships. A few months ago, one of our sales representatives sold a large and complex project to an important client without properly pricing it. A contract was signed and although we knew we would lose money, we fulfilled our part of the bargain. When the client learned what we had done, they gratefully sent us other referrals.
I Stay Generous
Good business ethics also means understanding your role in the greater whole. At our company, we donate numerous Web sites a year to worthy causes. Doing so has not only given us respect from our clients and employees, but it has also attracted new business to the company.
Since the passing of my grandfather, I make it a point to remember that good ethics equals good business. Leading with a strong sense of values puts the present challenges into perspective and allows me to make better choices. A dollar spent on an employee or in the community has a multiplying effect that leads to sustainability in the business world. And in the end, my principles will long outlive my profits.