Value Systems : Values and Ethics Determine One’s Character

Barry Doublestein is President of the newly-formed Institute for Leadership in Medicine. As a not-for-profit institution, their purpose is to train qualified physician-leaders for the medicine.


Barry is President of the Osteopathic Institute of the South, an organization dedicated to the training of medical students and Chairman of the Board of Masterworks Foundation, an arts-related institution, focused on training artists from a distinctively-Christian worldview.


Barry is also a doctoral student in the School of Leadership Studies at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.


He can be reached at:

Al Gini, in his chapter, Moral Leadership and Business Ethics, poses a very intriguing picture of how critical it is to understand the importance of ethics and values in every interaction that a leader has with his/her followers. He says:


If ethical behavior intends no harm and respects the rights of all affected, and unethical behavior willfully or negligently tramples on the rights and interests of others, then leaders cannot deny or disregard the rights of others. The leader’s world view cannot be totally solipsistic. The leader’s agenda should not be purely self-serving. Leaders should not see followers as potential adversaries to be bested, but rather as fellow travelers with similar aspirations and rights to be reckoned with.1


Many people have been harmed by the unethical behaviors of certain leaders today. With its roots in the failure of leadership during the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, the cry for ethics reform in business and politics continues to grow. This is especially relevant in light of the missteps of executives at Enron, Arthur Anderson and MCI. One must have a clear understanding of the separate, but intertwined roles that the terms ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ play in this process, for in doing so, more leaders will consider how their decisions affect their character and their followers.


                                                         Values – What We Believe


Values have been defined as a set of deeply-held, socially-shared 2 beliefs that serve as standards which guide us to the positions that we take on various social, ideological, political and religious issues.3 We employ these values to decide about what is and is not worth arguing; persuading and influencing what others believe in and do; and, as standards to guide processes of conscious and unconscious justification of action, thought and judgement.4 Thus, the ultimate function of human values is to provide us with a set of standards to guide us in all our efforts to satisfy our needs and at the same time maintain and enhance self-esteem.5


Values arise from one’s worldview; whether God- or man-centered. Just as water is comprised of one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms, these beliefs determine our end actions; how we behave. So values are the ideas and beliefs that influence our choices and actions; regardless of whether they are right or wrong, good or bad.6


                                                        Ethics – Shoulds and Oughts


Ethics, on the other hand, is about how we distinguish between right and wrong, or good and evil in relation to the actions, volitions, and character of human beings.7 Ethics is about the assessment and evaluation of values for all of life is value-laden.8 It can be said that ethics are the shoulds and oughts of life. They transcend culture, ethnicity, and are relevant to all socioeconomic conditions.9


Caution should be taken, however, when considering the personal application of ethics, for just because one has an understanding of ethics does not mean that they will do the right thing, or make the right choices. The application process requires one to make a concerted effort to bring congruence between what one believes and does.


As there are polar opposites regarding the genesis of values,10 so, too, are there in defining ethical positions. One of two perspectives, moral absolutism claims that there are eternal moral values and principles that are applicable everywhere. The moral quality of an act is inherent in the quality of the act itself, regardless of the consequences that result from the act. In most every case, good consequences flow from good actions that follow the code of laws. Conversely, bad consequences flow from bad actions that violate the code of laws.11 This is clearly the position of Christians and others who believe in a deity who establishes moral order in the universe; the same ones who believe that values find their genesis in this deity.


On the other side, are the ethical relativists who believe that circumstances alter the application of ethics; that everyday standards are good, but exceptions are also right and good. Therefore, an action is considered right if it tends to produce the greatest good for the greatest number.12 This type of reasoning seeks to increase the degree or extent of either pleasure, happiness, blessedness (termed...hedonism), or of biological or organic perfection, self-realization, or the spiritual condition (termed...perfectionism).13 Those who adhere to this position believe that an action is good if it results in some form of enjoyment or happiness, or if the individual or society is improved in some way.


                                                           Character – The Results


Character is the action that is taken to carry out one’s values and ethics. It is what defines a person’s reputation and results in who that person is when no one else is looking.14 Everyone displays his/her character in the daily working out of ethical decision making regardless of whether its means are good or bad. Take, for example, the resulting character of a young father in an interaction with his young child while on a business trip. At pool side with his five-year old son playing in the water at his feet, the man’s boss asks if he would like a beer. For whatever reason, as the father was putting the beer to his lips, the child kept repeating...”Don’t do it, dad.” Aware that the process was of concern to his son, he chose to drink it anyway. Disappointed, the child left the pool for his room. Realizing that he needed to discuss this with his son, the father explained that there was nothing inherently wrong with drinking alcohol as long as it was done in moderation. He had made a mistake because he decided to do something that he knew was a problem for his impressionable son. He promised that he would never drink any alcohol again so as not to offend him or his trust. Twenty years later, the father remains true to his promise.

If the father had acted in a morally relativistic way, he would have said that his promise was good (for the sake of his son) only when he was around him. On the other hand, the son knew that he could trust all of his father’s promises because they would be absolute. The ethical dilemma led to a strengthening of both the father and his son’s character.


Leaders need to remember that values are not ethics, for the former leads to the latter. It is through congruence of values and ethics in the crucible of life which determines one’s resulting character; what they will be when no one sees. Choosing wisely and remaining consistent regardless of circumstances, results in strength of character for all the parties involved. Considering how our actions as leaders affect others is foundational to an understanding of our ethical behavior.




1.         Gini, A. (2004). “Moral Leadership and Business Ethics,” in: Ciulla, J. (Ed.) Ethics, the Heart of Leadership. Pg. 25-43. Westport, CT: Praeger.

2.         Kluckhohn, C. (1951). Have there been discernible shifts in American values during the past generation? In E.E. Morison (Ed.), The American style, pg. 158-204. New York, NY: Harper, 1951.

3.         Williams, R. M. (1951). American society: A sociological interpretation. New York, NY: Knopf.

4.         Rokeach, M. (1979). Understanding Human Values: Individual and Societal. New York, NY: The Free Press. pg. 48.

5.         Ibid. pg. 48.

6.         Gini, A. pg. 34.

7.         Ciulla, J. (Ed.) Ethics, the Heart of Leadership. Westport, CT: Praeger. pg. xv.

8.         Http:// Reviewed: 9/19/06.

9.         Ibid.

10.        Doublestein, B. (2006). The Genesis of Values: A Christian Perspective., Awaiting publication.

11.        Http:// Reviewed: 9/19/06.

12.        Ibid.

13.        Ibid.

14.        Http:// Reviewed: 9/19/06.


Copyright 2006 - Barry Doublestein

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