In a modern dog-eat-dog world, there are still some professionals who pays no respect to ethical business – it is only the fittest that will survive after all. Working in a high-performance environment with colleagues being rewarded purely based on performance and results, one cannot help but feel obligated to do as the Romans do, or the nice guy/girl will come second.

If ‘good business’ means that all that matters is the bottom line, then unethical conduct could not be so serious after all? Myths like these legitimize and sustain unethical business behavior. it’s time to dispel all these myths and proof that one can run or work in a financially successful business whilst adhering to ethical standards.

Myth 1: Dog eat dog.

This myth states that the ground rule of business is ‘dog eat dog’. It portrays the business environment as a lonely and hostile world. Either you trample on others, or you yourself will be trampled upon. To consider the interest of others would be a fatal mistake. It would leave you vulnerable and open to attack from any other dogs in the pack. Thus, being ethical in business is to the detriment of your own interest.  

Myth 2: Survival of the fittest.

According to this myth, business is essentially a comprehensive struggle in which only the fittest will survive. The competitive nature of business means that you cannot afford bothering about the interests of your competitors, as that will jeopardize your own chances of survival. On the contrary, one should be as tough as a nail and do whatever it takes to beat your rivals. Ethics in business is dangerous as it might undermine your competitiveness and so your chances of survival.

Myth 3: Nice guys/girls comes second.

This myth proclaims that it is impossible to be both ethical and successful in business. Ethics and business are seen as opposites. Either one is unethical and successful, or ethical and unsuccessful. In short, ethics is detrimental to the success of a business.

Myth 4: Unethical conduct is not serious.

This myth propagates that although unethical conduct is wrong, it is not really harmful to society. Unethical conduct may not be exactly the right thing to do, but it’s not a bad thing either. Although ethical conduct may cause some discomfort to some people, it will not harm society at large. In fact, there might be some hidden benefits to society, such as redistribution of wealth or the stimulation for economic growth. Money lost through unethical behavior, such as fraud or bribery will finds its way back into the economy, either through consumer spending or through investment. At least it is not as serious as other crimes like assault and murder where people are seriously injured or killed.

Myth 5: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

This myth justifies unethical behavior by arguing that it does not help to go against the tide of unethical behavior. If unethical behavior in a business is the norm in a specific context or country, it simply must be accepted as the way that business is being done. Anyway, what ethical difference can one person’s ethical efforts make in a predominantly unethical environment. So, if you can’t beat them, join them. Or, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Myth 6: All that matters is the bottom line.

This myth maintains that business is about one thing only and that is profit. The bottom line on your accounts, which indicates profit or loss, is the measure of whether you are successful in business or not. Anything that impacts positively on the bottom line should be pursued and anything that distracts from it should be discarded. As ethics is not primarily concerned with the bottom line, business should not bother with ethics.


Working through these myths, one cannot help but to recognize situations in our everyday life where these myths played true to reality. The importance of ethics in business becomes more apparent especially when we strive towards sustainable business and economic growth. We as business leaders need to go above and beyond to cultivate an ethical business environment.

Roussow, D. & van Vuuren, L. 2013. Business Ethics. 5th ed. Cape Town, South Africa. Oxford University Press Southern Africa (Pty) Ltd.

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