Getting Rid of Greed: Choosing
Principle over Profit
Ask anyone the question, "Are you greedy?" and most will deny it.
Then follow-up with, "Would you break the rules if it benefited you financially?" And
the answer might be, "How much money are we talking about?" Few people
identify themselves as "greedy" but when it comes to money versus
principles, we like to run the numbers first. Pick an ethical scandal from
the news and money will be at the core. To get a handle on business ethics
and greed, we need to understand what "greed" is and who the players
So, what does a greedy person look like? You probably imagine a scrooge
character in a tuxedo sitting atop a pile of money throwing it in the
air. Or maybe you
picture high profile characters like Ivan Boesky or Jeff Skilling. Although
they may typify unethical people motivated by money, the real problem of
greed in business is more widespread. In fact, being tempted to do
for financial gain is nothing new for any employee.
In discussing greed, there is often a disconnect between the notion of
greed and who the real players are. It's easy to point the finger at "greedy" executives
or celebrities embroiled in scandal and overlook the thousands of employees
who succumb to greed each day and find themselves unemployed as a result. The
problem of greed is not just limited to the wealthy but is a human weakness.
Greed is defined as, "An overwhelming desire to have more of something
such as money than is actually needed." Most people don't struggle with
overwhelming desire to sit atop a pile of money, they simply want to a drive
nicer car, get the kids braces, and reduce the financial stress of life. For
others, acquiring money may not be a matter of greed but of necessity to keep
food on the table. To address the issue of greed in business we need to focus
on a practical discussion of principles versus profit.
At what point can your principles be exchanged for profit? Whether or
not you will do something unethical should not depend on your financial
so completely undermines your reason for having principles in the first
place. The struggle to avoid the temptation of greed and stand on principle
be won if you take the following steps:
First, you must unequivocally nail down your ethical principles for
dealing with money. You must say, "I will not let money override my ethical principles." Period.
Make it your mantra. Make it your core philosophy for business. Resolve in
your heart that you would rather lose your job than your integrity.
Second, you need to come to terms with what is most important in your
life. The Greek philosopher Epicurus said, "Wealth consists not in having great
possessions, but in having few wants." Parents teach their children the
difference between wants and needs. At first, the child says he "needs" everything
(toys, candy, etc.). After a while the child realizes that most of the things
he says he "needs" are actually "wants." So it is with
adults. Not having a balanced perspective on our wants and needs gives us a
skewed perception of the material world. When you need something bad enough
you are likely to do anything to get it, which is a recipe for ethical disaster.
If you live your life in a frantic quest for your "wants" you will
never be satisfied. You will miss out on all that life has to offer, and you
will make mistakes along the way. Don't let your wants drive your ethical decisions.
Third, you need a reality check about the gains that a greed-centered
attitude will get you. At best, you may have some short-term, superficial
but in the long run you will lose. Customers will go elsewhere.
Honest employees will choose to work for someone else. In the end,
by profit over
principle will backfire and set you back further than if you chose
the high road in the first place.
It doesn't have to be a choice between principles or profits. You
can have both if you maintain a proper perspective regarding
of your ethical principles. Your goal should not be to simply
avoid greed but
to stand by your core values despite the cost. Now, what's that
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