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August 24, 2010
A Lesson in the New Business Ethix
Get it? Ethics is misspelled because so few highly visible business people these days seem to have them, I figure it must be an across-the-board blind spot that extends to everything from behavior to grammar.

Seriously, though, am I the only one who's noticed the alarming and rapid disintegration of integrity in business? It's not just the usual suspects. (Insert your own mental images of Bernie Madoff, Lloyd Blankfein, Tony Hayward, et al.)

Lately, it seems like every Tom, Dick, and Jane looks to get a leg up on being underhanded.

For this new breed of striver, I've compiled a list of seven superlative ways to become (or improve as) a professional jackass.

1.) Don't return phone calls, e-mails, or other entreaties for your attention, no matter how innocuous or, indeed, potentially beneficial. You're just too damn important, and you know it. It's time others got the hint. Let them know by saying nothing.

2.) Obfuscate. As in lie. Little ones (I'll get back to you.) and big ones (It's a done deal!). They all count toward upping your overall ranking, so have at it.

3.) Lead people on. It's a great way to keep up the illusion that you care, while at the same time ensuring that they don't go looking elsewhere for opportunities to, oh, I don't know, improve their business.

4.) Forget the old axiom that all you've got in business is your wordThere are blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and countless other social media outlets you can use to deflect attention from the fact that your word's worth nothing, and your reputation is crap. Work it!

5.) Don't pay your bills (they're for suckers). Sure, there's basic stuff you can't blow off, like utilities and that half-double-decaf-half-caf-skim-latte you're always carrying around. But invoices for services that have been faithfully and expertly rendered on time/budget? Puleeze. Those things'll keep untilwell, let's face it, until you need more services.

6.) Expect something for nothing. You know you're worth it. Really, why should you be lumped in with those same poor slobs who actually pay for the things they enjoy?

7.) Talk down to folks. You know more than everyone about everything. Besides, you’re in charge. What more reason do you need to act like the schoolyard bully? Go ahead and relive the halcyon days of your youth.

Granted, it's not exhaustive. But for the beginner or up-and-coming professional jerk, they're seven sure-fire ways to get to the next level. For the experts out there, just think of them as a refresher course. (You're welcome, Wall Street.)

What's that, you say? You'd rather not be an industry pariah? The prospect of damaging your reputation and long-term business prospects for short-term gain doesn't excite you? You actually have a moral compass and would feel genuinely bad if you committed any combination of the aforementioned trespasses?

Well, good for you. You're not alone.

In fact, most people I come across -- partners, clients, vendors, hell, even our landlord -- are similarly scrupled. Crazy as it seems, they actually believe in doing business honestly, with more than a modicum of professional integrity and a sense of common courtesy that comes from being raised by someone other than a pack of wolves.

Clearly, these people aren’t in the vanguard. By extension, neither are you and I. But we’re all still in the majority, and that counts for something.

It means that even though a few reprobates want only to ignore their superego (and/or the law), the rest of us can and will rise above.

That even though it’s a jungle out there and competition is fierce, we’ll continue to conduct ourselves in ways that would make our moms proud.

Here’s to us -- the people working for profit and, at the same time, to return business ethix to ethics, both in spelling and in practice.

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Peter Leeds is principal at Gabardine, an agency in Westport, CT. The company develops creative marketing ideas and weaves them, like continuous threads, across marketing communications -- online and off -- to help strengthen the fabric of their clients’ brands.

Peter’s held senior-level positions on both the agency and client sides, including VP Creative Director at Modem Media and, most recently, Global Head of Creative Services for Thomson Reuters.

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