Business Ethics: The Six Pillars of Character

Just as successful individuals conduct themselves with exemplary character, a business should also follow a code of conduct when interacting both within the company and with customers and the community. The Josephson Institute of Ethics has compiled the Six Pillars of Character, which explain the way a company should embrace and display values in its everyday actions. These facets of character include trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. Optimally, a company will consider these virtues and incorporate them into the code of conduct for the business.


Ethics in Small Business

A trustworthy company is upfront and honest in all actions, including interaction with employees and customers. When representatives of a company uphold ethical standards, they help build a positive reputation for a company. Making commitments and following through with them also demonstrates trustworthiness. Honesty involves following established rules and telling the truth at all times.


All people have an inherent right to receive respectful treatment. A respectful company and its employees will extend this type of respect to everyone, including employees, customers, and competitors. Extending tolerance to others is another facet of respect. Civility and courtesy, even in unpleasant situations, shows a respectful attitude.


Management and employees often make decisions on behalf of a company. These decisions will have consequences and ramifications. Responsible professional behavior involves being accountable for decisions without trying to move blame elsewhere. Even something as basic as making timely payments on small business loans is an important part of responsible business behavior. Another part of responsibility is diligence and a desire to succeed. When employees work hard to represent a company in an ethical manner, everyone benefits.


Consistent business dealings and transactions demonstrate fairness. A company should institute a balanced code of conduct that serves everyone, including the business and the customers. For example, customers need a product or a service provided by the company, and the company needs to make a profit while serving the needs of customers. The customers have the right to receive high-quality goods or services, and the company has the responsibility to provide this. The customers also have the responsibility to pay for the goods or services received, and the company has the right to receive compensation for good or services provided.


Extending a caring attitude toward customers and employees is part of positive ethics. A business can demonstrate this type of caring by helping customers when possible, listening to concerns, and expressing gratitude. Customers each may have individual concerns and problems. A company might not always be able to resolve these issues, but showing concern is a positive attribute for a company.


A business is a part of a community, both on a small and large scale. A business should conduct itself within the laws of the community. A business can also demonstrate a civic-minded mentality by assisting the community in various ways. Some companies may participate in corporate volunteering efforts to benefit a community. Other companies may make corporate donations to help various organizations within a community.

  • The Six Pillars of Character: Establishing good character when conducting business with clients and customers is an important way to ensure that a company builds a good reputation.
  • Character Counts: Ethical business actions build trust and demonstrate respect and responsibility to customers and competitors.
  • The Six Pillars of Character: Overview (PDF): Honest professional conduct will build a positive reputation for a company. Treating others respectfully and fairly is also important for a business.
  • Ethical Principles for Business: Ethical business practices may not always be the most profitable for a company, but the long-term ramifications are usually the most positive.
  • Business Character Counts (PDF): Responsibility means fulfilling obligations and being accountable for decisions made.
  • Six Pillars Illustrated Poster Lesson Plan (PDF): A company might display citizenship by volunteering within a community or displaying the American flag.
  • Making Ethical Decisions (PDF): Making an effective decision involves thinking about options, clarifying goals, gathering facts, devising options, thinking about consequences, and moving forward with a decision.
  • The Six Pillars of Character (PDF): To develop trustworthiness, a business must show honesty, integrity, loyalty, and reliability.
  • Unconditional Responsibility (PDF): Choosing responses in a situation provides the freedom to respond ethically and morally to represent a business and serve clients.
  • Responsibility as a Business Strategy (PDF): When a company is active within a community, it demonstrates responsibility and a desire to contribute to society.
  • Trust: A Personal Value Essential to Organizational Success (PDF): A trustworthy company follows through with commitments and shows actions that are consistent with its values.
  • What Does a Trustworthy Company Look Like? (PDF): One ruler for measuring a company's trust is the other customers who trust it. A trustworthy company should be able to demonstrate this quality with testimonials from other customers.
  • Overview of Trustworthiness (PDF): Trustworthiness is built by demonstrating ethics through both words and actions.
  • 10 Virtues of Outstanding Leaders (PDF): An outstanding leader demonstrates values and ethics in the process of pursuing goals.
  • Business Good Citizenship Kit (PDF): After determining community needs and employee interest, a business can devote time and energy to corporate volunteering or giving to benefit a community.
  • Business in Society: A business needs to operate within specified values, which set behavior and obligations. Many companies choose to expand this framework to include societal obligations.
  • Developing a Code of Conduct: A Step By Step Guide (PDF): A company's code of conduct sets the organizational culture of the business, which has an impact on decisions and daily activities.
  • Responsible Business Conduct in an Emerging Market Economy (PDF): Prioritizing workplace safety, the production of high-quality goods and services, and law compliance are three ways a company demonstrates responsible business operations.
  • Developing Leadership Character: Successful leaders need commitment and character to put their values into practice in the workplace.
  • The Discipline of Building Character: Sometimes a circumstance demands a decision that tests values and commitments personally, professionally, and on behalf of a company.
  • Ethical Values for Business Success: A business owner and management team devises the values for the company, and employees must work within these constraints to represent the business.