If you wait to teach a person ethics when they're in college, you've waited too long.
"You can't teach a person ethics in college," said the man who this year as a Distinguished Lecturer represents the ethical face of AAPG. "Ethics is what you learn as a family ... before college. It's your core value."
John Gibson, who recently was named the inaugural AAPG Distinguished Lecturer of Ethics, entertained and informed the All-Conference Luncheon attendees in Barcelona with his observations on ethics -- specifically, how the subject comes into play at corporate-level decision making.
"Ethics ultimately is self-regulation," he said. "Imposed regulation is law, (so) in our industry, (when) we don't self-regulate, we create laws."
In other words, doing what's right is the best way to avoid being told -- or legislated -- to do what is right.
"If you do wrong, you damage our industry," he said. "You've done us all wrong."
Gibson, who is president and CEO of the Halliburton Energy Services Group, laced his comments with humor and self-deprecation -- "There's nothing more challenging than to talk about this (ethics) as a Halliburton employee," he said -- but his words held a serious edge of warning for those in the oil industry who operate in unethical ways.
"If you have a good leader, 70 percent of the people will follow," he said, citing tests that demonstrate people's proclivity for loyalty at all costs -- even in the face of truth. "(Get) One leader that's bad (unethical), and you give him a few years to get rid of the people who disagree with him, you can ruin a company."
Citing recent corporate black eyes (notably, the Enron debacle), Gibson pointed out how, in many of the actual cases, the executives responsible for the unethical decision-making were graduates of some of the top schools in the country -- which have had ethics curriculums for generations.
Education alone can't make a person ethical, he said -- but ethics can be an outgrowth of, and demonstrate itself as, responsible decision making.
Gibson supported his opinions with an academic foundation, describing briefly the "basic decision sets" that people use in making decisions -- and he stressed the importance of knowing personal and corporate preferences.
A "consequential" approach, in which outcomes are based on either what's best for the decision-maker (egocentric); for others (altruistic); or for the most number of people (utilitarian).
An approach that relies on promises and individual integrity. Gibson humorously categorized this as being for people who "feel guilty about whatever happens, so they make it a 'do unto others as you have them do unto you.'
"But I don't like that," he quipped. "What if they're into pain?"
A virtue-based approach, in which the "best people" are chosen for jobs or in influencing the decision process. A potential problem with this, he said, is the tendency toward nepotism.
Knowing personal tendencies for those options at decision time is a valuable first step toward ethical behavior, he said. The next step is in recognizing that, in any circumstance involving a company's objectives, leaders must recognize:
- Are you seeking a short-term or a long-term solution?
- Is your priority truth to the facts or loyalty to the company (or leader)?
- Do you seek justice or mercy?
- Is your priority the group, or the individual?
"Great decision makers know what decisions they're making," Gibson said. "Plot yourself. Plot your company."