Now that the Brian Williams saga has died down a little bit, it’s a great time to reflect on what we can learn from his
embellished mistakes lies. It would be very easy to look at it from a distance, participate in the public shaming, share memes and think that it has nothing to do with us, but we’d be wrong because it has everything to do with us. It could also happen to us. A little white lie here, a little stretching the true there…we could all be Brian Williams, with a smaller paycheck.
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So here’s what we’d be wise to remind ourselves: a few professional ethical lines we should never cross:
1. The end does not in fact, justify the means.
You don’t need to tell me twice about the importance of outcomes. I work in the same industry as Mr. Williams where ratings, page views, hits, clicks, trends and people talking about your stories, is (partially) how you are judged. But in this industry and in any industry, you cannot allow yourself to be so focused on the end goals that you do not take into account how you are going about to achieve them.
2. Losing our credibility in the long-term is not worth any short-term gains.
You may change jobs and careers multiple times throughout your life, or you may not. But wherever you go and whatever you do, your reputation will follow. The sad part is that Brian Williams was to many, one of the last few journalists that the public respected. And the sad part about losing credibility in such a grave way is that right or wrong, it overshadows all the good you’ve done. As the African proverb goes, “A good name is better than gold.”
3. Your ethical codes should not be easily breakable.
Most of us know or ought to know that the world is not black or white. In our professional worlds, we also know that sometimes we have to walk a fine line. But as a general rule, your ethical codes should not be easily breakable and they certainly should at times, cost you something. Whether that’s money or fame or whatever it may be, your ethics count the most when you are in difficult positions. And in those difficult positions, what you believe is revealed.
4. Err on the side of caution.
When it comes to personal things, I am all for, “better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” When it comes to professional things, which almost always have business and legal implications, recognize that it is far better to do the thing that has the potential to cause the least harm when you are in a dilemma. And if you have the opportunity to ask for permission, ask. If you are uncertain about something, wait until you get all the facts. You will be better off.
5. Don’t let your little lies becomes big lies.
My mother always taught me that the first time someone gets caught doing something is not the first time they tried it. None of us are perfect beings in any aspect of our lives. I am not here for witch hunts or unceasing condemnations. But I do think whether it’s work or the personal, we all have to be very careful about the small transgressions we allow ourselves to get away with. Because those small concessions we make can turn into very big ones. Reel it in. Reflect on who you are and who you want to be in your work place and in your life. And whatever you do, remember that your word and your integrity is your honor; it is how you will be remembered. Ensure you are remembered well.
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