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Ethical Decision Making

Posted 6 years 38 days ago ago by Randy Mains

Have you ever used someone’s good idea to illustrate a point and it EXPLODES right in your face because you had never considered an alternative answer?  It happened to me when I spoke at Helisuccess in Las Vegas last year.  Let me explain.

Earlier that year I was teamed up with a Mr. David Beard to give 9 safety seminars to pilots with the Customs and Border Protection Agency at bases throughout the southwest USA.  David is my vintage, an Annapolis graduate and former test pilot for Grumman, Northrop on the Harrier program.  Another job he had at Grumman was to give classes on ‘Ethical Decision Making,’ which was management’s attempt to keep everyone ‘honest’ in their business dealings.

In his presentation, David asserts, “We are not always one-hundred percent honest but we are BASICALLY honest.  That is, we are honest until the cost threshold for telling the truth becomes too great.”  

To illustrate the point he would choose a member of the audience to answer a few questions for him after presenting a scenario to that volunteer.  Here’s the scenario:  “You are in high school and you have been trying to get a date with one particular young lady all school year and shot down on each and every attempt.  Finally, the last opportunity presents itself at the end of the school year, the senior prom.  You summon up all your courage and you ask her out expecting another fiery shoot down, but to your delight, she accepts!

“Over the next couple of weeks you see her in class and she’s excited and tells you she and her mom ordered a new prom gown.  She is not so indiscrete as to tell you how much it cost but she did say where it was being purchased and you knew they did not sell anything cheap at that shop.  So you look forward with great anticipation to see what it looks like.

“On the night of prom you’re decked out in your tuxedo, you knock on the front door, the father answers and invites you in.  Your date is not yet ready so you spend a few minutes talking small talk with her dad.  

“Several minutes pass, then you sense movement on the stairs behind you, hear a rustling of material, a creaking on the wooden floor and you turn to see your date standing on the landing.  You notice she is absolutely beaming.  At that moment two things enter your mind.  One, you know she is thinking, ‘I feel GOOD about myself.’ 

The second thing to enter your mind is the word IDAHO.  That’s because her brown dress hangs on her like a huge sack of Idaho potatoes.   

Now, she walks down to you smiling broadly and asks, ‘How do I look?’

This is the moment where David asserts you’ve reached your cost threshold.  So what would you say having arrived at your cost threshold?  The volunteer always says what the audience expects him to say which is; “You look BEAUTIFUL.”

But when I used the example at Helisuccess and asked MY volunteer what he would say in that situation he replied,  “You look good enough to eat!” which brought the house down.  I could only stand there, agree with him and say, “Good answer!” 

David’s point of course is that most of us would be kind and tell a white lie which would be acceptable.  But what about decisions of higher gravity like say, having an over torque in your aircraft for example and electing not to tell maintenance about it?  Or some other misdemeanor you’ve done or chosen to ignore that could result in greater consequences down the line because you have not fessed up to your error? 

One definition of a professional is someone who makes the right decision when there is no one there to see it.  Does this definition describe you?  Where does your cost threshold lie?  What about your ethical decision making? What situation can you envision where you would choose not to tell the truth?  That’s a question to ponder.  I would hope, as a true professional, you’d elect to do the ‘right thing’ no matter what the consequences.  

Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected].