How to Succeed in the Cutthroat World of Business Without Sacrificing Your Ethics


Some people are afraid to send their kids off to business school because of all the cautionary tales. They leave as your precious little angels and come back as unrecognizable monsters — very hungry monsters prepared to devour anything that gets in their way. They left home with teachings about turning the other cheek and how no one can serve two masters and how the love of money is the root of all evil. But these ideas don’t always translate well to the MBA program, even in the finest parochial schools.

It is easy to maintain an ethical center when nothing is challenging it. You can commit to the idea of never using child labor to produce your products until you realize that your primary manufacturer is guilty of using forced labor. You might salute the flag and treat “Made in America” as a powerful mantra until you realize you can’t afford to move your manufacturing to America and stay in business. So how does one maintain their ethical center when the real world comes knocking? It starts with a realistic system of ethics that can be applied regardless of the situation. Here are a few examples:

Ethical Sales

People who are not well versed in the art of sales are the ones who give it a bad reputation when they attempt it. They take their cues from TV parodies of used car salesmen. More ethical sales come from better sales education. You can get virtual sales training that will give you a more realistic understanding of what sales is all about and how it is done. 

There are a whole host of things that are not a part of good sales tactics including the following:

  • Lying to customers
  • Refusing to answer direct questions
  • Assuming the potential customer is lying to you
  • Getting the sale at any cost
  • Being the kind of person that you wouldn’t want your kids to become

Ethical sales is a partnership where both parties win. If you are tasked to sell a product that is genuinely bad for the customer, you shouldn’t sell it. Take the opportunity to ask for referrals of people for whom the product would be a better fit. You will gain the trust of your prospects and fill that referral card the right way. Sometimes, ethical sales means walking away from a potential sale. 

Ethical Competition

You do not have to crush your competition to succeed. Business women can partner together and be stronger together than apart. If you own a spa, you don’t want your daughter to fail just because she decides to go into the same business for herself. You want to find ways you both can win. This type of relationship can be obtained with all your competitors. We live in a big world no matter how small it might seem at times. We do not have to be cut throat to prosper.

The key is never to dehumanize your competitors. At the end of the day, they are not your competition. They are your neighbor with hopes and dreams and families and bills just like you. Rather than being the only one left afloat, be the rising tide that lifts all ships. 

Redefine Success

If you want to be successful while maintaining your ethics, you need to redefine success in such a way that ethical compromise is not necessary. You can’t think of success as having the most. It is not about obtaining more than someone else. It is not about money at all. You can be a person of modest means and still be successful. Learn to define success by the type of person you are rather than the amount of power and wealth you accumulate. When your picture of success is ethical, nothing in the business world can tempt you to be anything else. 

All too often, young people are tempted by a false sense of success because they do not have a true sense of what success really is. They have no goals worth pursuing. And they let others define success for them. Model what ethical success looks like and they will not stray far from it.

Ethics and business do not have to be strange bedfellows. Start your business aspirations with ethical sales, ethical competition, and an ethical vision of success.


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