When in doubt about what’s ethical, ask your daughter or son. Hillary asked Chelsea

Hillary Clinton promised the voters of New York state in 2000 that if elected she would serve a full term. But by 2003, with George W. Bush’s popularity falling he appeared beatable, if the Democrats nominated the right person. Most of the Democratic political heavyweights thought the right person was Hillary.

Should she or shouldn’t she? She summoned all her inner circle—husband Bill, daughter Chelsea and her boyfriend, and four veterans of the Clinton White House—to one final meeting at the Clinton home in Westchester County. Game Change, the dishy story about the 2008 election by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, tells what happened.

“One by one, Hillary polled the group, listening carefully to what each of them had to say. [All told her she should run, but] there was one dissenter in the room. Chelsea believed that her mother had to finish her term, that she’d made a promise and had to keep it, that voters would be unforgiving if she didn’t. Try as she might to convince herself otherwise, Hillary thought her daughter was right…she simply couldn’t get past the pledge. All the artful answers in the world wouldn’t satisfy her conscience.”

There’s an ethics lesson here, one that goes beyond keeping your word. It’s if you’re ever unsure about what’s the right thing to do, talk it over with your child. If you can’t convince her that you’re doing right—or if you’re unwilling to discuss it with her—then you’re not.

This simple idea is embedded in many of the best codes of ethics. My favorites are the real simple ones, not a 64-page booklet like Enron’s, but a wallet-size card you can carry around and even remember. Here’s Lockheed-Martin’s “Quick Quiz,” part of its code of ethics:

When In Doubt, Ask Yourself…

1. Are my actions legal?

2. Am I being fair and honest?

3. Will my action stand the test of time?

4. How will I feel about myself afterwards?

5. How will it look in the newspaper?

6. Will I sleep soundly tonight?

7. What would I tell my child to do?

If you are still not sure what to do, ask … and keep asking until you are certain you are doing the right thing.

Read The Ethics Challenge: Strengthening Your Integrity in a Greedy World


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