Maxwell’s primary thesis in this book is that there is no such thing as business ethics – there’s only ethics. And that it is important to understand that "ethics is never a business issue or a social issue or a political issue. It is a personal issue." Therefore, he suggests that in business decisions, just as in our personal life, there is only one rule for making decisions: the Golden Rule. And since the Golden Rule begins with each of us, we need to ask ourselves the question "How would I like to be treated in this situation?"
How we answer is based on things all human beings have in common:
1. We want to be valued.
2. We want to be appreciated.
3. We want to be trusted.
4. We want to be respected.
5. We want to be understood.
6. We do not want others to take advantage of us.
Maxwell recommends that we adopt the Golden Rule as the basis for our ethics because:
1. It is accepted by most people and can be used to create common ground with any reasonable person.
2. It is easy to understand.
3. It is a win-win philosophy.
4. It is a compass when you need direction.
With the Golden Rule as our guide, he feels that we can make ethical decisions on a much more consistent basis.
Maxwell reviews a number of well-known breaches of ethics at companies such as at Enron, Adelphia, Tyco, and Worldcom, and laments the depths to which ethics have seemingly fallen in business. He contends that when faced with an ethical dilemma (an undesirable or unpleasant choice relating to a moral principle or practice) that people make unethical choices for one of three reasons:
1. We do what’s most convenient: giving ourselves permission to cut corners.
2. We do what we must to win: many people think they must choose between being ethical and winning.
3. We rationalize our choices with relativism: deciding what is "right" at the moment, according to our circumstances.
Again, with the Golden Rule as our guide, fewer unethical choices would be made.
To pursue the opportunities available to those who live their life unfailingly ethically, Maxwell recommends that you:
1. Take responsibility for your actions
2. Develop personal discipline
3. Know your weaknesses
4. Align your priorities with your values
5. Admit wrongdoing quickly and ask forgiveness
6. Take extra care with finances
7. Put your family ahead of your work
8. Place high value on people.
The Josephson Institute of Ethics writes that "Ethics is about how we meet the challenge of doing the right thing when that will cost more than we want to pay." Maxwell contends that living your personal and business life by the Golden Rule will minimize the guesswork associated with making ethical decisions, even when the costs of doing so are high.