Relationships, teams, and whole organizations often fail or fall apart because people don’t have the words or environment to resolve misunderstandings and conflict. Individuals and teams often don’t understand why they do what they do. This misalignment, or lack of connection, between actions and intentions ultimately leads to a void of purpose and genuine relationships. A shared language of ethics and encouragement of ethical behavior are missing from the cultural fabric of modern teams and organizations. Awake Ethics provides a language of ten ethical principles for leaders and interactive exercises for applying the principles day-to-day at work.

What are Ethics?

Ethics are universal guiding principles for our behavior; how to act towards each other and ourselves in ways that cultivate peace and progress. Ethics sound simple enough but in practice, it can be difficult to really know what is the most ethical action to take. Have you found this to be true? Maybe you have questioned the intention behind the actions of others as well. It is difficult to approach or cope with others that seem to be unethical. It’s difficult to act ethically when your organization doesn’t feel like an environment when ethics are understood or encouraged. Ethics are best understood through clear language and through true stories that illustrate ethical actions in practice.

The Ethics Gap

As a millennial and corporate team leader, I found that the complex and often competitive business environment made it difficult to determine or address unethical behavior. We were all on the same team, within the same organization, but seemed to be competing to a point where negative impacts emerged. Communications and actions were often negative or even harmful. The results of the actions and communications ranged from animosity, to depression, to poor productivity and attendance, and, ultimately, poor retention. I realized it wasn’t the flu or better job offers causing the team members within the organization to ultimately drop out; it was obstacles and misunderstandings at the mind level causing the actions that followed. Something deeper needed to change for the team to make sustainable progress and revitalize engagement. We needed to find alignment and peace in order to make progress. We needed to not only sustain day-to-day but also cultivate a culture of genuine connections and enthusiasm.

A Universal Human-Centered Solution

While searching outside of work for ways to cultivate a more mindful, healthy lifestyle and resolve inner conflicts and contradictions of my own, I discovered an ancient system of ethical principles that changed the way I approached my actions and interactions with others. The ten principles are specific yet universal in that they cover the full spectrum of ethical practices towards others and toward ourselves. The system includes principles such as Truthfulness and Non-Stealing, as well as Contentment and Self-Study. Though some principles seem obvious, the interpretation is often not what you might expect and the impact is deep. The basic interpretation of each principle and layers that follow are often overlooked day-to-day in our business environments.

A Timeless System for Modern Leaders

Though the ancient system of principles is powerful and impactful on its own, I found that the principles needed to be reinterpreted and applied to modern business. When I put the principles into practice with my team, we collaborated with more ease and enthusiasm. We made individual and collective progress. The shared appreciation for ethics opened communication lines and cultivated a culture of positivity. We were able to navigate misunderstandings and resolve conflict proactively. We freed ourselves from a negative, deconstructive culture of political conversations. I realized that this system of principles was the missing link for cultivating a team culture of peaceful interactions and more sustainable, optimal progress. This system went beyond just improving interactions and team productivity. The ethical practices also had personal impacts; I learned to get out of my own way (or my own antiquated, conditioned mindsets) and found new potential as a leader and entrepreneur.

Ethics for Balancing Peace and Progress

As I began to write Awake Ethics, I discussed the concept of business ethics with peers and friends. I found that many leaders and aspiring leaders find the competitive nature of business necessary and sometimes even enjoyable. However, everyone agreed that the competitive, fast-paced nature of business has negative effects when an understanding and presence of ethics is missing on the part of the leadership. We all truly want everyone to live a satisfying, abundant life and reach his or her potential. We want to cultivate genuine relationships at work and in our personal lives. We want to contribute to and cultivate work cultures that balance interpersonal peace and exciting progress. I wondered: Why are so many work environments and relationships full of frustration, fear, and animosity when we all, in theory, want these same things for each other and for ourselves? Is it possible to solve, or are the unavoidable realities of business driving these harmful situations and mindsets?

I reflected on some of the behavior that caused animosity, misunderstandings, and attrition in otherwise great organizations. I found that though each set of circumstances is different at every organization and for every team, the principles that worked for my team worked for others. In each instance of animosity and failed team progress, three things were missing: a shared language of ethics to discuss, a shared understanding of ethics in practice, and an environment where ethics are taught and encouraged.

The Essential Foundation for a Strong Team Culture

The Awake Ethics system has to power to fuel productivity and progress for individuals, teams, and whole organizations by cultivating peaceful collaboration and engagement. Imagine a team, an organization, or a world where we share a common language, understanding, and appreciation for ethics. That is my dream and could be your dream made reality, too.

It’s not just essential to design your own ethical system for your team or organization but to have an ethical system and language that spans across organizations and industries. This change has to begin with leaders that are interested in ethics and see the value of a common language of ethics. The change has to begin with leaders that are solution-centric, positive, and believe that, yes, we can cultivate a universal shared understand that actually adds value to our personal freedom and wellbeing. The change has to start with each leader, with each team, with each organization in order for a real shared understanding of ethics to exist between all of us. The first step is to learn and cultivate the understanding of ethics for yourself; only then can you lead by example.

Progressive Leaders and Organizations are Using Awake Ethics

In Awake Ethics, I share this essential language of the ten ethical principles. I share how to put the language into practice by cultivating an experiential understanding and working through individual and team exercises. I illustrate, through stories from my experience, how the ten ethical principles play into our work day-to-day. The exercises provide a platform for incorporating the essential ethical language and practices into your team’s cultural foundation in a fun, impactful way. It is a human-centered approach to leadership because the aim is to cultivate an environment of peace and progress while accounting for realistic limitations and rewiring habitual approaches that are often obstacles to peace and progress. I hope the book inspires you and helps you lead by example in cultivating an environment of peace and progress, as it has for other leaders.

“Awake Ethics was exactly the book I needed this year. I manage a team of several analysts and navigating office politics is an unavoidable and often challenging part of my job. I initially thought this book would help me better navigate office politics. While it definitely did help with that, it also touched so many other areas of my job and life. It really improved my “mental game” at work and I know I’ll be referencing this book for years to come. Hilary’s approach breaks down the misconception that you can’t be “nice” while also being very effective in a fast-paced retail environment. Too often this is sacrificed in the name of “we’re trying to drive business”. She articulates this very clearly up front that the goal is be both “peaceful” AND “progressing”, which really resonated with me. I am definitely more aware of how I’m behaving towards my team and colleagues.

— Christine, Director at Anthropologie

Align Your Actions with Your Core Intentions

Ready to start reading and exercising? Order Awake Ethics.

Read the Preface and Introduction to Awake Ethics here.

Learn more about or schedule an Awake Ethics workshop for your team or organization.

Follow on Instagram as I highlight concepts and exercises from the book this month!

This spring, I’m also publishing a leader manual to accompany the Awake Ethics guidebook, so that leaders and organizations can continue to foster a shared understanding and language of ethics.

Please leave a comment below or contact me with questions or feedback. I’m looking forward to getting ethical with you this year and as we all take the lead of our work and our lives. You can put this ethical system into practice action by action. Enjoy the process and the results.

Thank you for reading!