Do Unto Others
Ethics 101

 Do Unto Others

Bestseller John C. Maxwell condenses his vast business experience into a concise, applicable guide to living an ethical life.

In this short volume, New York Times bestselling author John C. Maxwell applies the years he has spent considering leadership, faith and ethical action. His clarity makes his beliefs apparent, and he uses a simple, candid tone that reflects his remarkable straightforwardness regarding ethics. Ambiguous, Maxwell is not. He makes his points clearly, showcasing the blunt language that sustains his remarkable book sales across a range of topics. But whether he’s writing about leadership, inner turmoil or collaboration, across his many books Maxwell has always been concerned with morals and morality in action.

Consistent Rules

First, Maxwell declares, it isn’t possible to have one set of ethical rules for business and another for your personal life. People make poor ethical decisions, or actively choose an unethical path because they do what is easy, not what they know is right. Or they think they must be unethical to get ahead. Or they let situational ethics – doing what seems right in specific situations rather than following a consistent code of behavior – guide them.

Asking the question, ‘How would I like to be treated in this situation?’ is an integrity guideline for any situation.John C. Maxwell

If you want to change an organization – a family, corporation or nation – begin with yourself. As an individual, you must know what’s right and act on it. You can be ethical at all times by applying an ethical tenet everyone already knows, the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” The Golden Rule is simple, easy to understand and easy to apply.

Let it guide your actions in any situation; it can help you focus your decision and act with integrity. Your ethical decisions flow from and into your character. Sound character produces sound choices; good choices produce good character. Sadly, the reverse is also true.

Living the Golden Rule requires acting on it in situations that call for ethical action; you cannot sit passively, dodge responsibility or let others decide what is ethical. However, you can ask others to give you feedback on how well your actions adhere to your stated ethical standard.

Offer Appreciation and Trust

People want to be valued, appreciated, trusted, respected and understood. Thank them for their deeds. Praise them for their successes. Trust them, so they will strive to be worthy of your trust. Work to understand them. This means leaving your comfort zone and your assumptions about your peers behind, so you can learn to know them genuinely and deeply.

There are really only two important points when it comes to ethics. The first is a standard to follow. The second is the will to follow it. John C. Maxwell

People also all want the same things not to happen: Nobody wants to be taken advantage of or treated unfairly.


Several factors can prevent people from behaving ethically. The first is pressure to succeed. To fight this pressure, slow down and examine what you’re doing. Ask yourself if you are acting on the spur of the moment? Or out of fear or pride? Will your actions compromise your ethical code?

Pleasure threatens ethical action. Pleasure tempts human beings, who encounter it everywhere in modern society. Decisions stemming from pleasure are weak decisions; never trust them. Discipline is your primary weapon against the temptation to do wrong. To contain and focus your emotions, train yourself to do what you should.

Decisions, not conditions, determine your ethics: People of poor character tend to blame their choices on circumstances. Ethical people make good choices regardless of circumstances.John C. Maxwell

Power is a potent threat. Pride is closely linked to power, but humility can temper it. If you feel self-important, you will focus on yourself rather than looking at your actions with a clear eye to see if you’re doing what you should. 

A lack of priorities can cause you to act unethically. Clearly establish your priorities, or you’ll stumble, and then you could act on a lesser priority when you should act on a greater one. Review your priorities daily and judge your actions against them.

Strong Character

To develop strong character, take responsibility for your actions. Never blame others; admit your mistakes. Your goal is to develop essential personal discipline. Measure your self-discipline by how well you manage your time, energy, goals and mood. 

In our fast-paced culture, I think just about everyone feels some kind of pressure. And with pressure comes the temptation to cut corners or bend the truth.John C. Maxwell

Become self-aware so you know your weaknesses. As you reach for self-awareness, strive for integrity, which really means, Maxwell asserts, becoming whole. You’re whole when your actions fit your decisions, your decisions fit your priorities and your priorities fit your values.

How you handle mistakes reveals your character, as does how you handle money. Money puts character under the magnifying glass. Any crack or imperfection will appear huge. Be financially wise. Accumulating too much debt puts pressure on you to act unethically. Holding on to your money too tightly will interfere with how you practice the Golden Rule.

Put your family ahead of your career. Your family is the fountain of your strength; nurturing your family feeds your career. As you rise in your career, use your new powers and responsibilities to benefit those around you.

Interpersonal Wealth

Practice the Golden Rule to develop interpersonal wealth. Treat people as you would like to be treated – even those who treat you badly. Being truthful and honoring your commitments will help you become someone who makes a difference in other people’s lives.

There’s no such thing as business ethics – there’s only ethics. John C. Maxwell

What do you hope to achieve and how do you plan to do it?” The first question tells you where you are headed. The second determines your path. Let the Golden Rule guide you. Thus, Maxwell insists, your focus will shift from what you want to what is right and what you can do for others. And that focus brings true success.

An Ethics Handbook

This simple, brief work is broadly accessible and will speak to those already dedicated to living ethically, those looking for tools to apply to that task and those skeptical of ethics’ utility. Maxwell does define one example of an ethical dilemma too simply, and then he treats it too briefly. He also discusses how to treat people as if everyone is the same. He doesn’t address the many personal and cultural differences one must negotiate in a pluralistic society. But is it ethical to dwell on these minor flaws in a classic work that deserves attention, appreciation and warm recommendations? Apply your ethics to find the answer.

John C. Maxwell’s many books include Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success; Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently; Today Matters: 12 Daily Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success; and The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize your Potential.

Share this Story
Show all Reviews