Four Ways Nurses Can Help Executives Become More Ethical and Honest

The latest Gallup poll regarding how Americans rate the honesty and ethical standard of certain professions was released in late December 2016. For the 17th consecutive time, nurses were the highest rated professionals when it came to perceptions of honesty and ethical standards. In sharp contrast to the 84% of respondents viewing nurses as having “Very high” or “High” ethical standards, only 17% of respondents viewed business executives as having high ethical standards, down from 25% in 2001. This is only marginally better than the ratings received by advertising professionals, car salesmen and —gasp! — politicians.

Perceptions don’t always match reality, but the consistency of the results since 2001 suggests business executives need to dig in and improve their honesty and ethics. Nurses, as it turns out, provide a good starting point.

Ethics is the study of what is good. For a professional, the good is that which fulfills the aim for which the profession exists. The aim of nurses, as medical professionals, is to restore and maintain human health; for business executives, it is to protect and increase shareholder value by providing needed goods and services.

The nature of a true profession is that it contributes to the common good. In a very real sense, both of these professions help make us whole as persons and as communities. Hence the perceived ethical gap between nurses and business executives is not in the what — both do real good for human communities — but in the how these professions are practiced.

In my experience with both the nursing and business profession, I have observed four simple qualities nurses model that can help “C.U.R.E” the perceived honesty and ethical gaps in business executives.

1. Compassionate

It seems that everyone these days is preaching the need for empathy. Empathy means we understand how others feel. But if you want to be a nurse or a great business leader, compassion is what you need. Compassion involves not only a recognition of what others need but also the willingness to respond with positive action. Notice the big difference. The syrupy emphasis on empathy — our feelings — is euthanizing our capacity to respond intelligently to real needs. Nurses are there for their patients when no one else is. Want to win and keep more customers? Be there for them; don’t just “feel their pain”; act to alleviate it.

2. Useful

Doing good is about more than mere utility, but usefulness to others is certainly a big part of professional life.

On June 2, 2009, near our small cottage in rural Middlesex, New York, our neighbor, Dr. Brad Berk, the CEO of the University of Rochester Medical System, was hit by a car and severely injured while bicycling on a hairpin country road. We watched as first responders loaded the doctor onto a medivac helicopter to fly him to the very hospital he commanded some 35 miles away.

Prior to his accident, Dr. Berk had a reputation among his employees as type A, hurried and distant. Now, lying in bed, paralyzed, Berk was helpless and completely dependent upon his employees. One of the nurses in the vast hospital system sensed his simple need and offered him an in-bed shampoo because “she’d always admired his well-kept hair. Berk was still on a ventilator at the time, unable to feel anything but his head. “That was the most pleasurable thing I’d experienced in 10 days,” he said. “That simple act was enormously restorative to my spirit.”

Nurses help calm our spirits and uplift our dignity largely by making themselves useful to us. Be useful to others by meeting your employees’ and customers’ needs, especially when it can be a surprise.

3. Respectful

Although their patients are, by definition, vulnerable, nurses don’t take advantage of the weaknesses of others. Instead, nurses help sick and struggling patients to become strong.

In ethics, we use the word “agency” to refer to a person with freedom and “patiency” to refer to a person who is dependent or passive. Nurses show respect for patients to help restore their sense of agency. To a nurse, a patient is not a cog in the machine. Good nurses are advocates when patients can’t speak for themselves.

Do you help your employees to use their freedom responsibly on the job? Are you an advocate for your employees and customers when they truly can’t do for themselves what can only done by leaders?

4. Engaging

The changing economics of the healthcare industry due to insurance and technology shifts has chilled the average doctor’s bedside manner. By contrast, nurses are in frequent contact with their patients and understand in real time — not just from a chart — the vital signs. Good nurses look at the data and confirm it with their senses. If the data doesn’t match what they are seeing, they take another reading.

Similarly, engaged business leadership is key. Don’t just look at all those reports and numbers. Get out of the office and see for yourself. Do the vital signs of your business match what you are sensing? Visit your employees and customers. Ask them to tell you what is happening. And while you’re out there, shake hands. Smile. Frown. Show the passion for your product by caring about your people. Periodically, offer an appropriate hug or gesture to a grieving colleague. Be engaged in the reality of the business.

There you have it. A simple C.U.R.E. for the ailing honesty and ethics ratings of business executives from the number one group of professionals, nurses!

Updated: 2/27/2019

Originally Uploaded 2/23/2017 on: Forbes