Ethics, Leadership & Decision Making Reading List

When we’ve talked about ethics leading up to and during the recent Navy Supply Community Ethics Stand-down, one of the questions we heard quite often is: “Can you recommend any books to help us learn more?” To answer that question, we’ve compiled this list of 11 books as a cross-section of some of the most popular and useful books on ethics and decision-making currently in print. Several of these books were very helpful in developing the content of our ethics stand-down. The descriptions for each book are tailored versions of the publisher’s notes to best present how the book may apply to you. Pick out any of these books that interest you and use them to inform your conversations on ethics and enhance your ability to operate with moral excellence in today’s challenging and highly scrutinized environment.

1. Ethics 101: What Every Leader Needs To Know by John C. Maxwell

Bestselling author John C. Maxwell shows you how the Golden Rule works everywhere, and how, especially in business, it brings amazing dividends. Ethics is ethics. If you desire to be ethical, you live by one standard across the board … educators, philosophers, theologians, and lawyers have taken what is a simple matter and made it very confusing. This book’s goal is to help you find the way to live and work ethically and also achieve greater success. The one “standard” Maxwell recommends using in all situations is the Golden Rule: the precept that one should behave toward others as one would want others to behave toward oneself.

2. Lying by Sam Harris

Most forms of private vice and public evil are kindled and sustained by lies. Acts of adultery and other personal betrayals, financial fraud, government corruption — even murder and genocide — generally require an additional moral defect: a willingness to lie. In Lying, best-selling author and neuroscientist Sam Harris argues that we can radically simplify our lives and improve society by merely telling the truth in situations where others often lie. He focuses on “white” lies — those lies we tell for the purpose of sparing people discomfort — for these are the lies that most often tempt us. And they tend to be the only lies that good people tell while imagining that they are being good in the process.

3. Winners Never Cheat: Even in Difficult Times by Jon Huntsman

Jon M. Huntsman built a $12 billion company from scratch, the old-fashioned way: with integrity. There were short-term costs and difficult decisions. There were tough times. Times just like today. But ultimately, leading with integrity wasn’t just personally right for Huntsman, it also proved to be the best business strategy. In Winners Never Cheat, Huntsman tells you how he did it, and how you can, too. This book is about remembering why you work, and why you were chosen to lead. It’s about finding the bravery to act on what you know is right, no matter what you’re up against. It’s about winning. The right way. Think about the kind of person you want to do business with. Then, be that person — and use this book to get you there.

4. Ethics for the Real World: Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisions in Work and Life by Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver

We often make small ethical compromises for “good” reasons: We lie to a customer because our boss asked us to. We exaggerate our accomplishments on our résumé to get an interview. Temptation blindsides us. And we make snap decisions we regret. Minor ethical lapses can seem harmless, but they instill in us a hard-to-break habit of distorted thinking. Rationalizations drown out our inner voice, and we make up the rules as we go. We lose control of our decisions, fall victim to the temptations and pressures of our situations, taint our characters, and sour business and personal relationships. In Ethics for the Real World, Ronald Howard and Clinton Korver explain how to master the art of ethical decision making by: Identifying potential compromises in your own life; Applying distinctions to clarify your ethical thinking; Committing in advance to ethical principles; Generating creative alternatives to resolve dilemmas. Packed with real-life examples, this book gives you practical advice to respond skillfully to life’s inevitable ethical challenges. Not only can you make right decisions, you can acquire new habits that will realize the best in yourself and transform your relationships.

5. Workplace Morality – Behavioral Ethics in Organizations by Muel Kaptein

Drawing on social psychology scientific experiments and examples from business practice, Muel Kaptein discusses why good people sometimes do bad things and how they rise above this behavior.

6. Practical Ethics by Peter Singer

The classic introduction to applied ethics in wide spread use over the last 30 years, but newly updated. The focus of the book is the application of ethics to difficult and controversial social questions.

7. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Winner of the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2011. In this international bestseller, Daniel Kahneman, the renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, engages the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, revealing where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives — and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. A weighty book, but very insightful.

8.  Integrity — Good People, Bad Choices, and Life Lessons from the White House by Egil ‘Bud’ Krogh

In 1971, President Nixon assigned ‘Bud’ Krogh to lead the SIU, Special Investigations Unit, to investigate the leaks of top-secret government documents, particularly the Pentagon Papers, to the press. This job led to one of the most famous conspiracies in presidential history and the demise of the Nixon administration. Integrity is Krogh’s memoir of his experiences — of what really went on behind closed doors, of how a good man can lose his moral compass, of how exercising power without integrity can destroy a life. It also tells the moving story of how he turned his life back around. For anyone interested in the ethical challenges of leadership, or of professional life, Integrity is thought-provoking and inspiring reading.

9. Predictably Irrational – The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Why do our headaches persist after we take a one-cent aspirin but disappear when we take a fifty-cent aspirin? Why do we splurge on a lavish meal but cut coupons to save twenty-five cents on a can of soup? When it comes to making decisions in our lives, we think we’re making smart, rational choices. But are we? Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They’re systematic and predictable—making us predictably irrational.

10. From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership by Harry M. Kraemer

A respected former CEO, professor, and speaker examines what it takes to become a values-based leader. Harry Kraemer argues that today’s business environment demands values-based leaders who, in “doing the right thing,” deliver outstanding and lasting results. Kraemer identifies self-reflection as the first of four principles that guide leaders to make choices that honor their values and candidly recounts how these principles helped him navigate some of the toughest challenges he faced in his career.

11. Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value and True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George

In the wake of continuing corporate scandals, there have been few, if any, CEOs that have stepped forward as models of ‘doing things right’ — except the former chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Bill George. George has become the unofficial spokesperson for responsible leadership – in business, the media, and academia. In “Authentic Leadership” Bill George makes the case that we do need new leaders, not just new laws, to bring us out of the current corporate crisis. George candidly recounts many of the toughest challenges he encountered — from ethical dilemmas and battles with the FDA

to his own development as a leader. He shows how to develop the five essential dimensions of authentic leaders — purpose, values, heart, relationships, and self-discipline. Authentic Leadership provides a tested guide for character-based leaders and all those who have a stake in the integrity and success of our corporations. True North shows how anyone who follows their internal compass can become an authentic leader. This leadership tour de force is based on research and first-person interviews with 125 of today’s top leaders — with some surprising results.

By Cmdr. Eric Morgan, SC, USN, Naval Supply Systems Command