Dear future leader – Doing the right thing might not be easy, but it will make you successful. First, you need to understand law vs ethics vs morals. There are distinct differences in using each (law vs ethics vs morals) in your decisions. How you formulate your decisions based on these factors can make or break your career – and business.

Dear Future Leader and CEO,

You work hard to move up the corporate ladder. You’ve planned well and you have good skills and leader potential. Good is not enough for you, though. You have higher expectations of yourself than probably anyone else in the world has of you, and I get that.

You haven’t come this far to be good. You want to be brilliant and superior to your competition. This short letter will give you the secret formula to moving from good to great to brilliant, Future Leader.

It all comes down to how you make your decisions and build your culture. You see, Future Leader, your culture determines how everyone else in your organization makes decisions, and that is critical.

It all involves understanding the differences of legal vs ethics vs morals, especially in the decision-making process.

Law vs Ethics vs Morals – Emotional Response

Think about when you make decisions or respond to the decisions of others. Depending on the lens you use – legal vs ethics vs morals – your emotional response is different.

I made this quick diagram for you depicting the emotional response to compliance vs conflict within these different areas.

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE TO COMPLIANCE VS CONFLICT ethical issues intelivate kris fannin
Doing the right thing, future leader: emotional responses to compliance and conflict with law vs ethics vs morals.

As you can see, legal compliance is the baseline, ethical compliance is a step above and moral is the most important, the most personal – and the most emotional. You’ll realize why in just a bit.

Let’s start with legal decisions.

You took ‘Business Law’ while earning your MBA. Great. Consider what you learned the absolute minimum you must do in business.

You don’t earn applause, awards or even customers if your decision-making process is strictly legal. Why? Because it’s expected and required.

In fact, if you stop at legal compliance, you are doing yourself, your career – and the business – more harm than good in the long run.

‘Good for you!’ says NOBODY when you don’t break the law.

Great, you fell within the law. At the least, you didn’t break the law.

Guess what?

You are alienating your best talent and customers because those decisions likely don’t meet their ethical or moral compass.

Just because you can do something (legally) doesn’t mean you always should. Just because you don’t have to do something (legally), doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. That’s where my motto, “Do what’s right, not what’s right now” comes into play.

Future Leader, legal compliance is a common level of operation. You want to be more than average.

While nobody is going to give you kudos or pay attention for staying within the law – if you break the law – especially as a business – people get angry.

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What’s the lesson for you, Future Leader? Law and regulation are your minimum operating procedures. If you want to be a great leader, then you must move to a higher-level of operating which is ethics.

Bad leaders tend to focus their decisions only on what’s required by law – nothing more.

Ethical Decisions: “This is What We Will Do.”

People often confuse ethics vs morals in business and decision-making but they are different.

Ethics is a formal set of operating procedures that go above-and-beyond the law.

Ethics are what will make you a great CEO, Future Leader.

Ethical Compliance

When your business and decision-making ethics are well-thought and defined, they set you apart from the competition. The biggest mistake I see in ethics committees and development is simply rehashing the law in the business process.

Remember, ethics policies are a way of operating beyond standard legal and regulatory requirements.

How do you determine ethical policies? You must deeply understand your market and the culture you strive to build. In most cases, operating by strict legal-only procedures produces an ethical conflict with your target customer and conflicts with a unique and powerful culture.

When your ethics are aligned, it shows in your daily business operations. Ethical compliance brings happiness to both your customer and critical talent.

Ethical Conflict

So you thought that you were doing the right thing by staying legally compliant. Unfortunately, Future Leader, you learned the hard way that doesn’t cut it in your highly-competitive market.

Especially if there is an ethical conflict, it’s going to make your best customers mad and more likely sad. You see, sadness is a deeper feeling than anger and it lasts longer. Acquiring, retaining and building loyalty with customers and talent who consistently feel an ethical conflict with your decisions is impossible.

Future Leader, build a strong code of ethics and ensure they are communicated to your customers, talent and are used as the basis of your business process and decisions.

doing the right thing legal vs ethics vs morals intelivate leadership development kris fannin2
Future leader: Doing the right thing comes down to ethical and moral compliance.

Moral Decisions: “This is Doing the Right Thing.”

This is a tough one, Future Leader, but the moral decisions are what will define your leadership legacy and make you superior to your competition.


These are the toughest and most exceptional decisions. They fall out of ‘typical operating procedures,’ so you’ll encounter these less often. Be very aware when one of these exceptions comes your way because it will be defining.

Morals are individually defined and this is why your decision is exceptional. When you are presented with a truly unique problem to solve, exceptional decision-making requires moral judgment.

Moral Compliance

These exceptional problems often require solutions that fall outside of your defined code of ethics and WAY outside of what you are legally required to do.

Be aware, Future Leader, that many eyes will be watching you during these times because they are so exceptional. When your talent and customers witness you making these exceptional decisions and they fall within their overall moral compliance, you’ll spark joy!

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Because they are witnessing what so many leaders and businesses fail to do – what’s right. Not just what is legal, not just what is ethical, but doing the right thing in an exceptional situation.

What is your compass for decision-making during these times? Simply ask yourself:

What is the right thing to do? How would I want this handled if it were me?

Yes, Future Leader, that sounds so simple, but as I’ve said in the past, “Simply is hard!”

It requires you intimately knowing your culture, your talent and most importantly – yourself.

doing the right thing ethics vs morals intelivate leadership development
Doing the right thing might seem simple, but simple is hard. It’s the delineating factor in law vs ethics vs morals.

Moral Conflict

When you feel a consistent ‘moral conflict’ inside, you mourn. Yes – moral conflict causes a mournful feeling because something is conflicting with the very core of who you are as a person. It’s a horrible feeling that most of us have experienced at one point or another.

If you feel this conflict often, Future Leader, then evaluate why. Guess what? If you are feeling the conflict, then your customers and top talent are also feeling it. That’s a recipe for disaster and for dooming your leadership legacy of greatness.

So what do you do then?

Make change happen.

Is the conflict coming from your lack of confidence in making these exceptional decisions? If so, then seek guidance through a mentor or other leaders.

Is the conflict coming from your lack of empowerment? Then seek to change that empowerment in the best way you can.

Ultimately, if you are often faced with making decisions that cause a moral conflict and you have no way to change the ‘why,’ then it’s time to plan your exit.


Because, Future Leader, you deserve the success that comes with doing the right thing. Most importantly, you deserve to be happy for needing to do the right thing.

Guess what? You are in excellent company.

‘The fate of humanity is entirely dependent upon its moral development.’ – Albert Einstein

The short video is certainly worth watching, especially if you feel the need to do the right thing in your life, career, business and while building your legacy, Future Leader.

Albert Einstein, In His Own Voice

Have you ever heard Einstein's real voice before? (Via Hashem Al-Ghaili)

Posted by Curiosity on Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thank you to Curiosity on Facebook for originally sharing this video.

With all my respect and best wishes for your success and happiness in the pursuit of doing what’s right,


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