Friday, December 20, 2013


by Charles Snow

A reader responded to my post on Great Business Books by asking, Are there any great books on business ethics? Or is that term an oxymoron?

Yes, I've heard business ethics referred to as an oxymoron, along with jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, and British cuisine. But, oxymorons aside, behaving ethically in business is hugely important. Just look at what happened in the U.S. before the financial crisis in 2008 and the Great Recession that followed when some businesspeople behaved unethically, illegally, and immorally -- often at the same time!

Your comment caused me to chat with a colleague who does research on business ethics as well as conduct some armchair research of my own. I learned that "Ethics books have never been well received in the marketplace," according to HarperBusiness Executive Editor Dave Conti. That probably explains why you couldn't think of a "great" business ethics book. Therefore, given your particular objectives, you might try reading one or more of the following books:

1. Dan Ariely, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty (Harper Collins 2012). Ariely is a behavioral economist and is considered to be one of the best experimentalists in the social sciences. This is an evidence-based book that describes how we all cheat and lie -- but only up to a point where we still feel good about ourselves.

2. Linda Trevino and Katherine Nelson, Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk About How to Do It Right (John Wiley & Sons, 2011). These authors, both business school professors, have done a lot of research on codes of ethics. You can learn about the experiences of various organizations that have formulated and used ethical codes.

3. Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr., Leading Quietly: An Unorthodox Guide to Doing the Right Thing (Harvard Business School Press, 2002). Another business school professor whose book is targeted towards middle managers.

1 comment:

  1. That's just my point. The paucity of works on business ethics attests to its low priority in the business world, higher academia, and within the publishing community. No wonder there's so much unethical, immoral and criminal behavior.


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