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Honorable in Business 

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character.  But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.”

Norman Schwarzkopf

Honorable in Business

Business has a bad reputation.

“It’s just business” is often code for “I’ll take what’s mine, and the devil can take the rest.”  The villain of many Hollywood movies is often a sinister CEO or shadowy cabal of wealthy businesspeople manipulating the world for their own selfish benefit.  Profit is almost as dirty a word as capitalism.

Unfortunately, being honorable isn’t a prerequisite of business.  You can make a lot of money without factoring honor anywhere into the equation.

Why Be Honorable in Business

If you want to develop and maintain long-term business relationships, honor will probably need to be central to how you operate.

In business, how people judge your character is critical to sustainable success because it is the basis of trust and credibility.  Both of these essential assets can be destroyed by actions that are or are perceived to be unethical.  Thus, successful executives must be concerned with both their character and their reputation.

Abraham Lincoln described character as the tree and reputation as the shadow.  Your character is what you really are; your reputation is what people think of you.

Thus, your reputation is purely a function of perceptions (i.e., do people think your intentions and actions are honorable and ethical), while your real character is determined and defined by your ultimate actions.

In addition, living by an honor code helps avoid feeling burned when a deal goes sour.

With this framework in mind, the process of accepting a bad outcome is much easier.  With a clear perspective on right and wrong, you can quickly identify and take the less ethical courses of action off the table, enabling you to select the best path more quickly.

How to be Honorable

First, find and live by an honor code.  James R. Otteson’s author of Honorable Business: A Framework for Business in a Just and Humane Society, suggests these five principles:

  1. You are always morally responsible for your actions.
  2. You should refrain from using coercion and the threat of injury.
  3. You should refrain from fraud, deception, and unjust exploitation.
  4. You should treat all parties with equal respect for their autonomy and dignity.
  5. You should honor all terms of your promises and contracts, including your fiduciary responsibilities.

Second, always do what you say you’re going to do.

If you’re constantly backing out of social plans or not showing up when you said you’d help out, work on your follow-through.  Maybe you really mean it when you volunteer to help, but your actions speak louder than your intentions.

Third, care about other people.

The honorable among us really care about the people in their life.  They’re the parents who work second and third jobs to make sure their kids have enough and the friends who refuse to let their pals get behind the wheel after a night of drinking.

Honorable people show their deep love for others through their actions.  If the people in your life don’t know you’ve got their backs, it’s time to start showing them that you do.

Finally, speak the truth.

Honesty and honor go hand in hand.

So practice always telling the truth, whether it’s about your own intentions or an outside situation.  It will certainly make you uncomfortable at times, and you might be subject to other people’s anger or hurt feelings.  But ultimately, people will appreciate that you’re someone who tells it like it is instead of sugarcoating.

The Bible

Philippians 4:8 says,

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Furthermore, Isaiah 32:8 says,

An honorable man makes honorable plans; his honorable character gives him security.

Things really haven’t changed.

The regard and emphasis on being honorable today are no different than it was over 2,000-years ago.  Being honorable is essential, and it is something we need to think about and strive for.

Your reputation is all you have as a business person and entrepreneur.   It is your honor that makes this reputation secure.  Don’t squander it.