There are two main trains of thought when it comes to ethics. Deontology and Teleology.
Deontology is the ideology based on morality and rules that all of us hear and learn at different points in our life. Things like – Do not cheat, do not lie, treat others the way you want to be treated, etc. This train of thought is popularized by Immanuel Kant and is also called the Kantian philosophy. In essence, If a convict is chasing an innocent man and the convict asks you whether you saw where the innocent man was hiding, you would have to tell the convict the truth if you knew because lying would be amoral. What happens after is irrelevant. Does this sound like something you would do?
Lets talk about Teleology. Teleology is the philosophy where the ends justify the means. You have the power to choose what achieves the greater good when it comes to Teleology. This is justified very well in an episode of the show called ‘The Good Place’ on Netflix. The example used in the show is this – What if you were driving a trolley. There are 3 workers on the track in front of the trolley that have no idea about the fact that your brakes don’t work and you are about to run them over. The only other option is pulling a lever to activate a fork in the track and jumping over to another track. There is only one worker on that track that would be the victim. You have a couple of seconds to decide. What do you do? I will leave you to ponder the situation. If you are looking for a laugh, go watch Season 2, Episode 5 – The Trolley Problem of ‘The Good Place’ on Netflix.
We talked about a case where you were the manager of a lady that was hired a certain time ago. When she was interviewed, she had asked the working hours and expressed her inability to work past a certain time during the day since she was a single mother. All parties had agreed that would be acceptable. The business environment had since changed and everyone was putting in extra hours to keep the business afloat but this particular lady was unable to do so because of her child. While the quality of work this person delivers is top notch, another colleague has already complained about the fact that she is not putting in the quantity of work other team members are. As a matter of fact, others are having to pick up slack because she is unable to put in the hours. What do you do in this situation? Your options are – Fire her, Don’t fire her and run the risk of getting fired yourself, or Quit with a clear conscience but then you have a family to feed as well. Again, I will leave you to ponder the possibilities.
The most important lesson for me was that we live in a grey world. While we like to think of our world as black and white, it is increasingly grey everyday. There aren’t only right and wrong decisions any more. You have to make decisions based on your judgement and your philosophy. Who are you willing to be – The boss that fired the single mother who needed to tend to a sick child or the weak leader who didn’t have the conviction to make a difficult decision to take the company through a tough time. We are surrounded with these kinds of questions in business all the time and while there is no right answer, having an understanding of if we align with Teleological or Deontological philosophies can give us a better idea of why we make the decisions we make.
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