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Jan. 30, 2003

WHAT ENRON CAN TEACH FAMILIES ABOUT LOVE

DALLAS (SMU) -- Corporate wrongdoings are ethical failings in the boardroom, but the behaviors -- greed, lying and hubris -- begin in the family. If you want ethical managers, business ethicists say raise ethical children.

"Running a family is a lot like running a business. The same behaviors you require of good employees, you want of good children," says Richard Mason, the Carr P. Collins Distinguished Professor at the Cox School of Business and director of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility. Mason, who has written on character development -- in particular cheating by teenagers -- offers these tips honed from years of teaching business ethics to undergraduate and MBA students:

  • At its basics, ethics is about love, respect and caring. Teach these traits by showing children love consistently. Ethical businesses treat their employees with respect, honor their customers' wants and needs and strive to be competent and excellent in all they do.
  • We are all naturally self-interested. But a good family practices mutual love. Everyone is respected for who they are. So a member doesn't steal or lie or be arrogant out of respect for others. This caring and other family norms keep our shadier side in check. Teach children to control greedy impulses and to practice humility rather than hubris, behaviors that were the downfall of executives at Enron and WorldCom.
  • Manners help young children to understand ethics. "Manners teach respect for others, which is essentially what ethics is," Mason says. "When parents teach young children manners, they're also teaching them early concepts of ethical behavior."

Other behaviors Mason says parents need to instill in children are honesty and accepting responsibly for one's actions. Mason has been teaching business ethics for more than 15 years. He's most proud, however, of being the father of one daughter and two grandchildren.


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