Ethical Expression as a Component of Career Selection


Is ethical expression relevant when it comes to our job or career? Can this concept be the foundational explanation to why some people are very successful and happy and why many are not? Ethical Expression is a term that we see referenced in Christian writings and Buddhism. Let’s just say it goes way back.

By Dwight Goddard, A Buddhist Bible (1966), pp. 646-53.
“Having emerged from Hinduism, Buddhism shares certain Hindu assumptions. Central to Hindu (and therefore Buddhist) ethical expression is Karma. The law of Karma (the moral law of cause and act) will determine one’s status.”

This article is trying to make the case for applying “ethical expression” as a critical part to career exploration and choice in a way that ensures future success and satisfaction.

Premise: When a person can ethically express their talent to do a job and support a career that person will experience a high level of job satisfaction and success relative to those who are not able to ethically express their talents in their career.

First, let’s break this idea of ethical expression down to the independent elements. We’ll then construct “ethical expression” as a component of how to choose one’s career. This article is not going to discuss the religious or philosophical uses of ethical expression other than where text from those knowledge areas support and are relevant to career choice.

Of the two independent terms, “expression”, according to Answers.com, simply means the “act of expressing, conveying, or representing in words, art, music, or movement; a manifestation”. It is “the way one expresses oneself, especially in speaking, depicting or performing”. When we are at work are we performing? In most organizations, aren’t we given a performance review on a regularly scheduled basis (annually) and in those situations when we aren’t performing to a desired level?

But the critical element in the definition is “the manner in which one expresses oneself”. By that very definition, is it an easy stretch to say we also need to deal with “the manner in which a job expresses itself”? Is there a correlation between the way we express ourselves and the way a job requires a person to express him or her self while performing the job? Can the level of alignment between the two correlate with job satisfaction and success?

There is adequate evidence to suggest a job has behavioral requirements – some jobs need very specific behavioral requirements while others may demand more general or fewer specific behaviors. For people, how you express yourself is defined by your behavioral style – it is “how” you do what you do which is very observable. Even though behavioral style exists in people and every job has behavioral requirements, we know that trying to fit a person to a job or career based just on behavioral style alone is not a best strategy.

Behavioral style is just one part of a person’s total talent makeup. Other components where we see a strong (useful) relationship for identifying one’s talent is in their motivators and soft skills. Your motivators are established early in human development. To eliminate debating the issue, it is pretty safe to claim that a person’s personal values (what we refer to as motivators) are established by the age of 15. Many young people have not had the time or experience to set up soft skills (very learnable but not directly addressed in schools).

In contrast, by the age of 16, a person’s behavioral style and motivators have stabilized and are established to a point of easily being used to explore and test possible careers. Does one’s behavioral style and motivators change? Yes, but the rate of change in behavioral style and what motivates a person is measured across decades for most people. That explains why research shows most people have two or three careers in their lifetime. And you can usually see a strong connection or path that enabled the person to progress from one career to the next. In other words, without the first career as a stepping stone, the second career would not be possible.

So when we think of “expression” in one’s career, it requires looking at the person’s total talent makeup which includes behavioral style, motivators and soft skills. In the case of a young person (and in many adults), soft skills may not be developed fully.

We have evidence that a good behavioral and motivators fit without the required soft skills for a particular career will result in modest success. Add the development of relevant soft skills and we see a high degree of success. We also see strong evidence that without the match of a person’s behaviors and motivators to the behavioral demands and reward/cultures in a career choice that it doesn’t matter how well-developed a person’s personal soft skills. The odds of success in that scenario are very small. 

Components of talent are being measured by many assessment instruments today. Most of these are derivatives of behavioral style which covers many “personality assessments” constructed within the past 100 years or so. The historical roots of assessing talent are clearly connected to personality assessments and the study of personality which goes back to the days of Hippocrates and other ancient philosophers. Today, we have the ability to identify the relevant components of a person’s talent and offer guidance or coaching around career options.

So is there a case for associating “expression” with “individual talent”? Is how we express ourselves connected to our talent? If so, is there a connection between a person’s talent and their potential for success in a particular career? Can we say there is a connection between how we express ourselves and the quality of different career options?

So what about the word “ethical”?
The meaning of “being ethical” starts with the definition of “ethic”. A definition as provided by Answers.com looks like this:

1. ethic n.
  a. A set of principles of right conduct.
  b. A theory or a system of moral values.
2. ethics (used with a sing. verb) The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person; moral philosophy.
3. ethics (used with a sing. or pl. verb) The rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession: medical ethics. [Middle English ethik, from Old French ethique (from Late Latin ēthica , from Greek ēthika, ethics) and from Latin ēthicē (from Greek ēthikē), both from Greek ēthikos, ethical, from ēthos, character.]

Let’s create an assumption for this article that “being ethical” is the act of carefully studying the moral choices to be made and acting within a set of principles that result in “right conduct”.

What is a moral? A pure definition provided by answers.com suggest the following description of the noun:
Moral n.
1. The lesson or principle contained in a fable, story or event.
2. A concisely expressed precept or general truth; a maxim.
3. Rules or habits of conduct

Can we say there are lessons or stories about productivity, job satisfaction and costs of turnover in our current work environments to show a human-work relationship moral? Are there some general truths that have been discovered through the work of organizational psychologists to suggest a connection between a person’s talent, as defined by behavioral style, personal motivators and personal soft skills, and their potential for success and satisfaction in a particular career or job?

Do we have enough evidence to suggest rules or habits of conduct within the class of “socially acceptable and normal” are very broad and that no one person carries all rules and habits of conduct equally? 

If the answer to all three is yes then we have established a human-work moral. To apply an ethical standard to the concept of a human-work moral means there is a moral quality to the course of action in selecting a career. From a practical sense, does the burden of this ethical standard lay on society’s back or on each of us as individuals? Evidence or hints of the answer may be found in our school systems. There is a modest attempt to offer some support around exploring and selecting a career. We can easily agree it is not the primary purpose of schools today.

So if not the schools, burden must fall to the person or family (Mom and Dad in the case of a teenager). Given the size of the implications around career choice (happiness and success in life) there is a very heavy burden placed on the person (and their parents) and that burden falls at a time when the individual and parents have very little on which to base their decision and actions.

Can we say that “ethical” relative to career selection requires using the best available body of knowledge coming from the work of organizational psychologists (those in the work environment) and the knowledge (wisdom) of parents, career coaches, school counselors and others who have experienced career success and career missteps. Does this make for a smart strategy for coaching teenagers? On the other hand, are current practices such as the use of a unilateral behavioral assessment for career counseling or a parent’s unilateral personal dreams for their son or daughter considered acceptable ethical strategies? How do we ethically support our teenagers as they consider career choices? Is there a way to increase the odds for our teenagers being able to ethically express their talents in a way that results in high job satisfaction and success?

The answer is to empower the teenager by providing them with state-of-the-art insights into their talent using a multi-dimensional battery of assessments that are valid and reliable at measuring what they are suppose to measure. Researchers are finding strong evidence that the more self-aware a person, the stronger the correlation to success. With self knowledge as their weapon, the teenager is able to identify careers that have high potential for success and satisfaction. They are then much more likely and motivated to engage in the research necessary and meet with successful adults already in those careers to learn more. The more the teenager knows about a particular career prior to a significant investment of time and money, the more likely the time and money will be worth it.

So to put this in context, being ethical when it comes to choosing one’s career requires carefully studying the “moral” choices and acting (pursuing and executing) on that knowledge. A moral choice in this context is one that considers your natural talents – how you express yourself.

Can we say that a person who is ethically expressing their talent in a career will be successful and happy in the job they are doing? Based on the evidence in my work with a range of businesses from small, family owned businesses to very large corporations, the answer is an overwhelming yes.

Carl Nielson is a management consultant specializing in talent and organizational development and hiring. He is also the developer of a program for teenagers called Career Coaching for Students™ that is used by career coaches throughout the United States. A personal home edition is available at the website. Carl also delivers the Career Coaching for Students™ workshop and 12-hour webinar for students and their parents. For more information visit the website at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net.

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