Business Ethics – Moving Through the Yellow Light

The stop and go of urban traffic can be challenging and reminds me of business ethics.  Just when you think the trip is smooth sailing, the next intersection light turns yellow.  We’ve all passed through a yellow light (some of us, as it was turning red).  Technically, the yellow light is somewhat more than slow down – it is an indication to stop.  According to Colorado Revised Statutes Title 42 Vehicles and Traffic § 42-4-604:

Vehicular traffic facing a steady circular yellow or yellow arrow signal is thereby warned that the related green movement is being terminated or that a red indication will be exhibited immediately thereafter.

Business Ethics, Don’t Rush It

Everyone has a different approach to yellow lights.  What makes matters more confusing is that, depending upon circumstances, our approach to yellow lights rarely remains the same.  Light traffic, busy schedules, familiar timing may make us sail through the yellow light without much thought.

Business ethics share some of these same issues.  Financial decisions that are in the grey area – but technically correct – are best decided with consideration and reflection.  True, client pressure, market uncertainty, and deadlines may guide us to rush through the yellow light, but ultimately slowing down and crossing the intersection on the green is the right decision.  In a study by Clouse, Giacalone, Olsen and Patelli (2015), examined individual orientations in terms of moral identity, idealism, integrity, and Machiavellianism and the issue of acceptability of questionable decisions about financial issues.  No surprise, their research found that individual orientation differences may undermine regulations best attempts to improve ethical decision making.

Ethical Decision Making

Leadership intuitively knows the nuances of choice by their team members.  What we now need to do is to develop methods to help the team become reflective when moving into the “yellow light” of decision-making. We suggest training that augments the regulatory aspect of ethics training.  Reflective exercises may at first seem a bit too “out there” but have the potential to not only enhance professional decision-making, but also enhance quality of life.  Let us know if you’d like to learn more!


Clouse, M., Giacalone, R. A., Olsen, T. D., & Patelli, L. (2015). Individual Ethical Orientations and the Perceived Acceptability of Questionable Finance Ethics Decisions. Journal of Business Ethics, 144(3), 549-558. doi:10.1007/s10551-015-2798-7

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