The Ethical Triangle

The Ethical Triangle is a paradigm that may be employed when confronted with an ethical quandary (see Figure). This ethical paradigm allows the user to compare a course of action (COA) to three distinct ethical approaches: principles, virtues, and consequences. Although the Ethical Triangle was designed for individual usage, it may also be used as a model beyond the person level since it allows for the examination of complicated ethical dilemmas using three separate methodologies. When the Ethical Triangle is applied to a scenario, it provides for a better understanding of complex ethical dilemmas. A more full comprehension of an ethical quandary leads to the formulation of a logical and morally defensible solution.

One helpful model in considering business ethics is the Ethical Triangle, which highlights the three key ethical components for any organization:

  • Individual Ethics
  • Leadership Ethics
  • Governance and Control

Leaders who want ethical behavior in their organizations must focus on all three factors.

The three components in the diagram for a description of its optimal state.

Individual Ethics
Optimal: Individuals who practice ethical behavior, treat others with respect, and act honestly and with integrity.

Leadership Ethics
Optimal: Leaders who are ethical role models, communicate ethical values to the organization, and reward and discipline others based on ethical behavior.

Governance and Control
Optimal: Organizations with proper oversight, control systems (ethics codes, training, etc.), and corporate cultures that support ethical behavior.

Ethical organizations feature: individuals who have made a personal commitment to ethics; leaders who support ethics through practicing what they preach, communicating values, and rewarding and disciplining others for their ethical behavior; and governance and control that provide formal and informal structures and systems (training, ethics code, an ethics hotline or ethics help line, corporate culture, etc.) that support ethics.

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