Failure, scandal and ruin are caused by a narrow mindset that prevents corporate leaders from acknowledging that they are on course for disaster, according to two ethics scholars from DePaul University.
However, there are ways to avoid being part of the next cruise ship disaster, company explosion or drug recall.
Laura Pincus Hartman, Vincent de Paul Professor of Business Ethics, and Patricia Werhane, the Wicklander Chair of Business Ethics and managing director of the Institute for Business and Professional Ethics, both from DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business, examine the catalysts for poor decisions and how to prevent them in, “Obstacles to Ethical Decision-Making: Mental Models, Milgram and the Problem of Obedience.” The book’s co-authors are Crina Archer, Elaine E. Englehardt and Michael S. Pritchard.
A person’s inability to be able to tell right from wrong rather than just choosing to ignore doing “the right thing” occurs as a result of ethical blindness.
Contributing factors to ethical blindness
“As children we are taught to obey authority, even if authority is asking us to do something really bad,” said Werhane. “We continue to fulfill the request of our manager and supervisor even if there is a nagging feeling that something is out of place.”
From there, our life experiences fuel blindspots in our judgment.
Past experiences create shortcuts in the human mind, which allows for faster decision-making but also makes a person susceptible to bias.
Gray skies and rolling thunder have led to rain in the past, so a person’s initial reaction is to grab an umbrella and expect rain. Except, there is no guarantee rain will fall.
“We tend to rely on our past experiences to a fault,” said Hartman.
The brain creates shortcuts due to its inability to absorb every new piece of information. It selectively sifts through large amounts of new data and only stores what it deems to be important, allowing crucial information to slip through the cracks and resulting in poor judgment.
“When blindspots become so exaggerated is when we hear about them,” said Hartman. “And at that point, it’s on the cover of Time.”
Preventing ethical blindness
When a situation in which a person’s morals are in conflict with what they’re being asked to do, both researchers agree it’s important to stop, think and ask: What’s going here? Why am I doing what I’m doing? How else can I do this? What are the consequences?
“Try and identify all of the people who will be affected by your decision,” said Hartman. “Imagine what it would feel like to be in their shoes. That forces you to look at the consequences of your decisions and make better choices.”
Seeing the world from an outside perspective allows people to leave behind their preconceived notions and pursue alternative solutions outside of their past experiences. By understanding their own bias, a person can work to actively counter judgments made based off of stereotypes.
“Avoid presuming you know what’s right,” said Hartman. “Strive toward empathy.”
If and when these actions are pursued and what to do next is still unclear, Hartman suggests seeking the advice of trusted colleagues and mentors. “It’s one really effective way to make sure you’re getting a variety of perspectives,” she said.
It’s vital for decision-makers to listen to the advice and concerns from experts around them, but none are more knowledgeable than the people handling the day-to-day operations.
To avoid reaching the point of managing a crisis, it’s essential to listen to the people who are on the front lines and know where adjustments need to be made.
“Upper management should always take the time to listen to their workers’ concerns,” said Hartman. “I’m not suggesting they do it to just be nice either. Learning more about what’s happening on the ground will affect the bottom line and allow for better decisions and more profits.”