The First Principle of Ethical Behavior: All ethical, moral, compassionate, decent, civil and lawful behaviors are intentional. The choice is always

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The First Principle of Ethical Behavior:

All ethical, moral, compassionate, decent, civil and lawful behaviors are intentional. The choice is always clear and always yours.

The Second Principle of Ethical Behavior:

All questionable, inappropriate, unethical, unconscionable, immoral, predatory, improper, victim-producing and criminal behaviors are also intentional. The choice is always clear and always yours.

The Majority of Bad and Erroneous Decisions in Crisis are Intentional

Will Durant’s extraordinary definition of ethics that appeared in an introduction to his 1926 book, “The Story of Philosophy,” is among his greatest gifts.

This quote often elicits comments from academics and others who study philosophy to tell me why Spinoza, Socrates and other ethical luminaries in history were more significant. Will Durant put the most practical definition of ethics into the English language. I have a corollary thought:

If what you’re planning or doing or did is appropriate, constructive, crucial, helpful, important, necessary, positive, sensible, sensitive, simple and useful, it’s also likely to be ethical.

And then there is...

The Lexicon of Self-Forgiveness

How Perpetrators, Predators, Criminals and Bad People
Hide in Plain Sight . . . We Let Them

Where in the world is the school where managers and leaders study apology avoidance or, as I prefer to call it, arrogantly applied Self Forgiveness (AASF)? It is no surprise that perpetrator and predator-like managers and leaders early in their careers develop an obvious and impressive array of personal apology avoidance habits and language. I’d bet that even their mothers are surprised, but then again, maybe not. We’ll get back to moms later.

In my experience there are four general approaches for AASF:
1. Self-forgiveness
2. Self-talk
3. Self-delusion
4. Lying

You’ll recognize each one by the language perpetrators use. Remember, apology avoiders deny that they are perpetrators until they are caught. Even then they blame those around them. I always recommend talking about these avoidance excuses, if given the chance, as widely and as soon as the subject, or argument, about apology arises, usually early in crisis (where there are victims) and reputationally damaging situations. It is crucial that those around leaders and managers be able to identify, speak up and call attention to these falsities and fallacies repeatedly as crisis response elements are developed.

Let’s begin with the lawyers.

“The lawyers won’t let me apologize.”

Look, lawyers are consultants like every other staff advisor in the play. Remember, like other internal or external staff counselors, they can only advise. Key decisions are always client decisions.

So apology is always a leadership decision, rather than just a legal decision. Wait a minute. Yes, an apology is always an admission whatever the circumstances and has legal implications -- that’s the reason we have attorneys.

Apology is the Atomic Energy of Empathy

I define apology as the Atomic Energy of Empathy because, when apologies are given, bad things can start to stop happening. Some bad decisions can be stopped before they begin. One of the most common things that can stop happening is “get even” victim driven litigation. There is almost always litigation for damages - that’s what insurance is for. Following an apology, the tone is different, and settlement can become the focus. Your insurance company will play a very large role.

You do have to prepare for trial, but here’s another powerful twist: hire a second independent law firm to start settlement talks immediately. Even though it is commonly done, law firms litigate until they can’t and then negotiate a settlement. Settlement can occur a lot faster than the traditional pre-trial defense litigation steps. Besides, the odds of litigation getting to trial in the U.S. is small (like one out of more than a hundred). Courts encourage and support settlement talks at the earliest possible time.

An effective apology has five must-be-done components:

1. Admission of doing something that hurts or victimizes;
2. Explanation of specifically what the harm is/was/will be;
3. Discussion of lessons learned and behaviors that will change to prevent future occurrences;
4. Direct request of the victims for forgiveness;
5. Penance or compensation agreed upon to be performed to atone for the damages done and to come.

Having said this, you still need to know the four apology avoidance strategies. Here they are. All should sound familiar.

Strategy 1. Self-forgiveness:

“It’s an industry problem; we are not the only ones.”
“This isn’t the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last time.”
“Let’s not blow this out of proportion.”
“We couldn’t have known.”
“It’s not systemic.”
“Don’t our good deeds count for anything?”

Strategy 2. Self-talk:

“It’s an isolated incident.”
“It couldn’t have been done by our people.”
“Not many were involved.”
“If we don’t do it, someone else will.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Strategy 3. Self-delusion:

“It’s not our fault.”
“It’s not our problem.”
“We can’t be responsible for everything.”
“It won’t happen again.”
“It was only one death, in one place, at one time. Why is everyone so angry?”
“Life can’t exist without risk.”

Strategy 4. Lying:

“I don’t know.”
“We’ve never done that.”
“It hasn’t happened before.”
“It can’t happen again.”
“We won’t give up without a fight.”
“I’m not a crook.”
“I did not have sex with that woman.”

Share these lists with every executive so they know all these excuses are off limits. Don’t worry - the urge for avoidance is so strong that bosses, lawyers and communicators will begin thinking of new ones immediately. As you hear the new avoidance language, build another list and circulate immediately to executives to re-inoculate them against future apology avoidance.

Most of all, have the boss call his/her mom (they probably have already) and ask their advice before trying any of these avoidance strategies. We both know what her advice will be. Take it and have a better life, maybe even keep your job.

The attorneys may be upset; some in your cohort will call you a sissy. Some colleagues may beg you not to apologize because, if you do apologize, they may have to sometime in the future. I can tell you that practicing apology, humility and compassion is the real work of leaders, especially when victims are created.

You will sleep better. Mom will be proud.

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