The Ethical Compass – Ethical Crisis Scenarios


We are all navigating our way through this time of crisis.

An explorer cannot navigate without a compass. A journey without a compass is dangerous and uncertain. Winds and waves and weather determine the journey when there is no compass

Where are you on the journey?

What is your story?

The Economic Crisis that began in 2008 has transformed the lives of millions.

It has revealed a crisis of leadership, a crisis of trust and a crisis of ethics at the core of our society.

There is an individual story of transformation that goes with every one of them. No two people will ever tell exactly the same story.

But there are patterns that we can recognize.

The economic crisis is not only about money.

We can say that it is not even primarily about money.

It is about hopes, dreams, plans, goals, relationships, and change.

And this economic crisis has also been about trust and broken trust, strength of character and corruption.

It has been a test of leadership. And it has been a test that many have failed.

The economic crisis is about sleepless nights, lost jobs, shame and quiet desperation.

It has turned into one of modern history’s great tests of inner strength and character, or resilience and courage, of imagination and hope.

There are questions and more questions:

What is your experience?

Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios that have become the reality for many across the world since 2008?


You are an executive in 2007. You supervise mortgage bankers. Since 2002, you have watched as the practice of providing loans to borrowers with very low credit scores and/or insufficient ability to make the mortgage payments has become commonplace.

You know that many of these borrowers are not required to provide a down-payment.

You have seen adjustable rate mortgages, introduced when interest rates are at generational lows, turn inevitably into a trap that springs in the future.

You know that the common-sense pragmatism of banking – the foundation in REALITY – is gone.

You know knows there is something wrong.
But there is no question that ‘almost everybody does it’.

It’s true that housing prices are still moving up, and everybody is happy – at least now, and at least on the surface.

But you are troubled in your conscience.

You may never tell anyone else

You may never admit it to yourself

You ask yourself whether others are worried or struggling or wondering what will happen

You are well paid, and your life and the lives of those dependent on you is dependent on your job – and on providing those loans.

An employee you supervise suggests that this may not be ethical – that it may be setting up these borrowers for pain and loss. Both of you know that this is questioning a process that is now increasingly ‘normal’ – but has not been done before on anything like this scale.

You agree inside, but you listen without saying anything. Both of you swallow your consciences and go back to work.

The sheer number and variety of people provide comfort. We can’t all be wrong!

The government supports the dream of providing homes, and pays little attention to the unpleasant details. Borrowers ignore the sense that they are committing to a house – and a process – that may trap them and that they likely cannot afford. But that is the future. It is the present that matters.

Then the market crashes on a scale that is unimaginable. Investment firms that represented propriety, dignity, solidity and above all, trust, for decades have turned into frantic casinos and vanished overnight. The whole giant structure implodes and shakes the world economy to its foundations.

Now what happens?

You may have lost your job.
You may still be there, and have to address what is now clearly unacceptable.
Now you have to be even more careful about what you say and who you say it to, because while you have survived the ‘chop’, your colleagues have not.

And getting another position is more difficult than it has been at any time in eighty years.


You watch as a colleague or an employee is targeted by a ruthless boss and slowly broken.
You listen as the person is humiliated and secretly slandered.

You are told that the target will be removed, and you are told to participate.

You watch as the target is isolated, shamed and forced out.

You know that if you do or say anything to help, you will be the next target.

You have seen it before. You know the pattern. You know what is demanded. And you do it.


The economic chaos of the last four years has forced you out of your position, your career and the live you have known.

You have lost what you have built over years in a single day.

Your role as executive gave you absolute assurance that you were important, significant and valued.
Suddenly it is gone. A void opens up at your feet.
The past is gone and the future is uncertain.


What is Your Story?

Consider the situations described here. Do you see yourself there? Are you there now or still trying to recover?

Are you paralyzed inside by the decisions you have to make or the decisions you have avoided?

What are the core principles of your life – the principles you live for and would sacrifice for?

How do you live out those principles in your career?

How do you make decisions?

How do you respond to an unethical situation?

How do you define integrity?

What are the values that motivate you and strengthen you?

How do you respond to a troubled conscience?

How do you translate your ethical compass into the reality of the work place?

Why I developed The Ethical Compass, LLC

The Ethical Compass is designed for executives, leaders and managers who have experienced ethical crisis precipitated by and related to the economic crisis….

and are committed to the demanding and challenging work of defining their own Ethical Compass.

I started The Ethical Compass after years of working with people making life changing decisions and facing extraordinary events in a very wide variety of circumstances.

I have worked with people who were forced to make changes they didn’t want and those who eagerly embraced changes they had yearned for.

I have seen people walk through doors they never expected to open with anticipation, and others face tragic loss and grief.

Some have changed careers and others have changed vocations.

And I have been deeply impressed by one factor that makes a profound difference in every situation, regardless of scenario and regardless of individual circumstances: the development of good character.

There are many words we use and all of them fit: integrity, virtue, principles, nobility, courage, resilience, hope, inner strength, forgiveness, faith, compassion, a respect for truth, the recognition of talent in others, the ability to see beyond our own demands and a self-respect that does not depend on opinion or situation.

That is the first question I learned to ask myself when working with someone: Do they have an ethical core?

Those who have developed this ethical core are not exempted from suffering. In fact, they may experience it at a deeper level.

But they are not broken by it. They are not destroyed by corruption. They are hurt, but not shattered, by loss.

The Ethical Crisis becomes an open door for those with an Ethical Compass who are willing to use it and everything you have learned and experienced can and will be used.

But first it has to be developed. And you are not alone.

I invite you to join the discussion below about the role and significance of coaching, the client-coaching alliance, assessments, career goals and the development of your own ethical compass.

Timothy Riso

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