Do You Confuse Morals With Ethics?

Do you use these words interchangeably?

Their meanings are similar, but “morals” and “ethics” are not the same thing.  Even though they are closely related, the differences between these two words matter especially in business.  We live a global economy where morals and ethics can have a huge impact your reputation.  As leaders, it is up to us to know where we stand both personally and professional when it comes to hot button issues.

Let’s dive in and unpack the true meanings of these two words:


Morals:  the standards of right and wrong behavior

  • Personal compass
  • Internally driven beliefs
  • Transcend cultural norms

Morals are what you believe about right and wrong.

Ethics:  rules of behavior based on a group’s moral code

  • Society’s compass
  • Externally driven beliefs
  • Dependent on others for clear definitions

Ethics are what society believes about right and wrong


Morals are internally driven, while ethics are externally driven.  This may seem like an over simplification, but I like simple.  It works and it’s true.  Think of it like this:

Neither morals or ethics are always good.  People have bad morals all the time.  Groups of people can also have bad ethics.  If a person disagrees with the group’s ethics then she has a moral dilemma.  People respect leaders who live by good, personal morals.  This means knowing right from wrong, and not checking your company’s ethics code before every tough decision.  Strong leaders have a strong internal source.  This  guides them through tough decisions.

The rule book has a place in business, but a true leader knows the right thing in her gut.  Can you think of a time you made a tough decision based on your internal moral compass?

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonnyc/6415460111/”>CarbonNYC [in SF!]</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

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