Ethics is doing the moral and right thing even if you don't think anyone is watching. (A small business is only as ethical as the decisions made by its managers. These decisions come out of a manager's character and often mean putting ethics ahead of short-term profits.


Trustworthiness, which includes honesty, reliability and loyalty, is a core element of ethical character for managers. If a manager is honest, he will not lie to employees, customers or vendors nor will he condone others doing so. For example, he will not change the numbers in his sales report to make it appear that his team is performing better than it is, exaggerate claims about his product or persuade customers to buy more product than they need. Reliability means keeping commitments. Loyal managers keeping information confidential. Leaving your company and taking proprietary technology with you, even if you helped invent the technology, would be disloyal.

Respect for Others

While a manager may not always like everyone, she respects everyone. Following the Golden Rule of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a core value. Respect prohibits humiliation, coercion and exploitation and encourages decency. It requires charging a fair price for products and treating employees with dignity, for example.


Responsibility is a core value that encompasses accountability and the pursuit of excellence. Accountability means accepting responsibility for your own decisions and mistakes. Responsibility also includes doing your best, persevering despite challenges and avoiding making excuses for mistakes, such as "that's not my job" or "it was legal."


Caring also is a core element of ethical character. Managing a business without hurting anyone's feelings is difficult if not impossible. However, a caring manager feels an emotional response to both the pleasure and pain of others and consciously seeks to cause no more harm than is necessary in carrying out his duties. If you must reprimand or fire an employee, find a way to protect her dignity.


Another core element of ethical character for a manager is to be a good citizen to the community. One way to do this is to integrate socially beneficial actions into as many day-to-day activities as possible. Examples might include improving your company's environmental stewardship or instituting a program that provides employees with time off to volunteer in the community.