By Christine "Chris" Herron, Westwind Management Group, LLC
The term “Ethics” can sometimes generate different feelings and meanings for different people. However, we usually count on people of high moral character to act virtuously both in public and private. They seek the greatest amount of good for themselves and others. In this way, they are seen as moral decision-makers.
Moral philosophy has many schools of thought; some that are more ‘black and white’ and others which are shades of gray. For example, if you are more aligned with the philosopher Kant (sometimes referred to as deontological), you might reflect on the rightness or wrongness of a particular action without consideration of the outcome, while other moral philosophies such as the utilitarianism view, looks at morals as more of an ‘ends justify the means’ scenario. And, of course, there are numerous others. Regardless of your approach or belief system, most of us can agree that ethics and ethical standards are an important consideration in the governance and management of community associations.
We believe it is so important because we are entrusted with care for people’s most substantial lifetime investment and the place that they call ‘home.’ It is our responsibility as professionals or volunteer leaders in the industry (whether board or committee members, business partners, community managers or management company leadership) to uphold a high standard and assure those we are serving of our integrity and trustworthiness. This is a hallmark of our character. Character reflects who we are. There is no separating a person’s character from their actions, ultimately. Character is a choice. There is a lot which is generally out of our control in life. But we can control and create our character every time we make choices.
How do we know the “right” choice? The Community Associations Institute has established codes of conduct and ethical standards for industry practitioners. This is a good resource and place to start when considering ethical questions. You can find the CAI Code of Conduct, and CAMICB Professional Standards for credentialed members easily on the CAI website. Most community organizations have adopted codes of ethics or codes of conduct for their Board operations, as well. Some other resources to consult if you are unsure about a particular issue, might include reaching out to a friend or a trusted colleague and posing the situation to them. Their feedback could help you to reach the best conclusion. Be sure to seek the support of others who share your same purpose, and who have been known to act consistently within the framework of their core values. Additionally, our human intuition is a very powerful thing, so if something does not feel right, you can usually trust your gut. Doing good work in the right way feels good.
Ethical dilemmas are not new. Some of the ethical dilemmas we are faced with are ‘easy’ to answer – don’t take bribes, kickbacks, or other similar remuneration or consideration in exchange for influence in any business activity, for example. Others can be harder to address. For instance, ask yourself under what condition would receiving a gift cross the line? Often, business partners express gratitude for their ongoing business relationships by offering various networking opportunities which may constitute a meal, a coffee break, or participation in a social event. This gives them an opportunity for some ‘face time’ (pandemic notwithstanding!) to share their valuable services and products with you, which may be of significant use or benefit to your community or clients. And sometimes, Boards of Directors may give gifts of appreciation to their service providers at the holidays. Some good questions to ponder in these situations are: By receipt of the gratuity or gift, will I be compromising my integrity, objectivity, or standards? Will I be falsely setting up an expectation of special services or opportunity here, making me obligated to this person in any way? If the answer to either of these questions or similar ones is ‘Yes,’ you likely should reconsider acceptance, regardless of the value of the gift or nature of the activity.
I, for one, want to be known not only for doing ‘good work’ but for working responsibly and ethically. I am the only one who can be ultimately responsible for this; not only with respect to myself, but to my family, friends, and colleagues, as well. Knowing what should be done and having the means to do it are useless without personal commitment. So, bottom line, ethics starts with me.
Christine (Chris) Herron, CMCA®, AMS®, PCAM® is a 20+ year industry veteran, and Chief Operating Officer with Westwind Management Group, LLC. She is pleased and proud to be part of an organization and team which values integrity and ethics very highly, and whose purpose is to help people live better lives.