Personal Ethical Decision-Making Approach

Personal Ethical Decision-Making Approach
EDLP 705
Tim Lampe
The purpose of this document is to develop a personal approach to ethical decision-making that
can be applied in the work setting when making real decisions. To establish this approach, a preferred
philosophical framework will be identified from one of the five frameworks discussed in the book
Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Leadership: Causing Light or Shadow, (Johnson, 2012). After the
preferred philosophical framework is selected, a determination of the strengths and weaknesses of the
framework will be conducted.
Additionally, a brief description of a selected ethical issue that might be confronted will be
addressed, analyzing it from the perspective of each of the four ethics; Justice, Critique, Care, and
Profession. A decision-making model will then be chosen and a description of how it would be applied
to the selected ethical issue will be made.
Finally, an evaluation of the quality of the decision that was reached in the described case will be
made. It will be determined if the decision is supported or not after it makes its way through the
decision-making model.
Preferred Ethical Framework
Five ethical frameworks are discussed by Johnson (2012): Utilitarianism, Kant’s Categorical
Imperative, Justice of Fairness, Communitarianism, and Altruism. In analyzing each of these
frameworks and applying them to the types of decisions that are made in my work environment,
utilitarianism was identified as the preferred ethical framework from which to base most decisions that I
have to make. The reason for this choice is because most decisions must benefit the majority of the
people visiting or participating in events at one of my facilities; otherwise known as doing the greatest
good for the greatest number of people.
In my role as Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Special Events, decisions that I make
are not made for individuals per se or even geared toward a small group of people. I have to think about
what implications my decisions will have on various large groups of people, consistently and
universally, without causing thoughts of inequities or biases of any kind.
An advantage of using the utilitarian framework for ethical decision-making is that decisions are
easy to understand (Johnson, 2012, p. 155). When a decision is made and it is very clear that the intent
is to have a positive impact on ‘most’ people, it is more easily accepted, making the rationale for these
decisions easy to understand. This is especially true when the decision is frequently used by people with
diverse backgrounds throughout the course of myriad events. A decision that is used often, and across
the board, without singling out specific groups of people, adds an additional advantage to using the
utilitarian framework. It becomes the way of doing business for people and they begin to accept these
decisions as standard operating procedures.
Other advantages of decision-making using the utilitarian framework are that we are forced to
examine the outcome of our decisions and that these decisions supersede our personal interests
(Johnson, 2012, p. 155). Being forced to think through a decision and anticipate the effects of the
decisions we make can help eliminate backlash situations that might surface later. In addition, ethically
questionable decision-making can be all but eliminated due to the positive effect that the decision has on
large amounts of people. Being accused of making decision for one’s own benefit would be tough in
light of the utilitarian framework.
While there are certainly encouraging advantages for using the utilitarian framework for
decision-making, there are disadvantages as well. One such disadvantage is that consequences might be
difficult to identify, measure, or evaluate. Even though it is an advantage to being forced to examine the
outcomes of our decisions, there may be unanticipated outcomes. It is not always possible to predict all
possible outcomes and surprises can and do occur. Another disadvantage is that using the utilitarian
framework may result in decision makers reaching different conclusions (Johnson, 2010, p. 155). Not
everyone sees things the same way and defining a solution to a problem that resonates the same way
with everyone can sometimes be challenging.
Regardless of the fallacies that the utilitarianism framework presents, the fact remains that the
intent of any decision, whether right or wrong, was made in the best interest of the greatest number of
people. There is no doubt that mistakes will be made and that there are people who will be unhappy
with decisions, but decisions made using the utilitarian framework are generally ethically sound in my
Ethical Analysis
There are many ethical issues that I can expect to confront during the course of an event in one
of my facilities. When writing the policies and procedures for our facilities, for example, there were
various policies that had to deal with the handling anything from money, food, things or people. Before
implementation, each policy must be thoroughly thought out to be sure that there is little room left for
ethical issues to arise.
For example, there is a policy that states that security staff at our facilities must perform security
screening procedures involving a pat-down and metal-detection at all entry points at most sporting
events. As a part of this policy, there is a list of items that people are not permitted to bring into an
event unless they are deemed to be essential. Essential items would be reasonably sized women’s purses
containing only essential items, diaper bags only if accompanied by a small child, and certain medical
devices or supplies. Also, men are not permitted to carry brief cases or pocket knives and students may
not carry backpacks or books.
As one might imagine, trying to define ‘reasonably sized’ and ‘essential items’ can be a delicate
proposition. However, similar to airport screenings, most people understand that these safety
precautions are done to protect people so that they can have peace-of-mind knowing that they are safe
while attending an event. These screenings are not intended to invade anyone’s personal space or rights
or to single-out any person or a specific group of people, they are in place to mitigate the chance that
weapons or other harmful devices might be brought into the facility.
Before a policy such as this can be enforced, however, a process to ensure that policy decisions
are ethically sound is an important step to take before the implementation phase. One way to ensure that
a decision to perform security screenings is an ethical one is to analyze it from the perspectives of each
of the four ethics; justice, critique, care, and profession (Shapiro and Gross, 2008).
The justice perspective goes back to the times of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, with ‘fairness’
as the basic question. It asks if a specific decision treats everyone the same or if there are signs of
favoritism or discrimination. The ethic of justice focuses on how fairly or unfairly our actions distribute
benefits and burdens among the members of a group (Velasquez, Andre, Shanks, and Meyer, 2010,
“Thinking Ethically,” para. 10). Because the decision to send everyone through the security screening
process, from the perspective of justice, it appears to be justified. It is fair across the board in that it
does not show any signs of favoritism, nor does it discriminate against any particular person or group.
The ethic of critique highlights the issues raised by the justice perspective, but instead of simply
and thoughtlessly accepting a decision or policy handed down by those in positions of authority, the
ethic of critique urges us to be prepared to challenge decisions or policies by asking a few simple
questions to better understand all power relationships.
We might ask who benefits from, or is disadvantaged by, a decision or policy. We might also
ask what forms of injustice could arise or what the possible consequences are that might result from that
decision or policy. It would also be important to understand the ‘value’ that we are attempting to
preserve by implementing the decision or policy.
How these questions relate to the safety screening policy is a bit more in depth than the
perspective of the ethic of justice because it asks questions from a critical point of view. Who benefits
from this decision? Everyone who wants to enjoy the event in a safe environment, safe from the worries
that someone in the crowd is armed with a weapon and ill-intentions. Who is being disadvantaged?
Any person with intentions of causing harm or violence is disadvantaged. There is no way that the safety
screening process can eliminate all threats but it certainly mitigates the likelihood that violence could
erupt at one of our events.
The ethic of critique also looks for forms of injustice, but because the policy covers everyone we
have very few issues. There are occasional complaints from people who don’t understand why we are
so vigilant, but we seem to always have a fresh news story about a school or shopping mall shooting, or
some other recent act of violence involving a public assembly venue.
In the world of collegiate athletics it is relatively easy to show that we value safety for our
student-athletes, families, fans, and so on. The fact that we value the safety of ‘everyone’ is
strengthened by our actions and it is clear that there is absolutely no personal gain by any person or
group. The value of safety is acknowledged, as well as accepted, and the procedures are therefore
accepted as a standard operating procedure.
The ethic of care is based on the transition from the focus on oneself to the responsibility to
others and it recognizes personal relationships with others. It focuses on dignity, people’s personal
concerns, and the overall humanistic approach to how we treat one another.
Looking at security screening from this perspective further strengthens an already strong ethical
justification for the decision to conduct the screenings. It demonstrates a genuine concern for the safety
and security of every person attending the event, with no regard toward anything other than keeping
fellow humans safe at a family-friendly event.
The ethic of profession expands beyond the first three ethics of justice, critique, and care. It asks
questions from the perspective of the profession and the codes of ethics to which practitioners are to
In athletics and, more specifically, facility management, safety and security screenings are
indeed a standard that is used globally. The use of safety screening procedure is so widespread around
the world now that one would have to wonder if there was something wrong if they walked into an event
and they did not get screened. It would seem unprofessional.
There are national and global conferences that specifically address safety and security procedures
at large sporting events, where people receive special certifications after completing rigorous tests
showing that they are competent in the area of venue safety. To not implement a screening process at
one of my venues would be looked upon as incompetence and a total lack of regard for people’s safety.
Decision-Making Model
Before a decision is made, it is helpful to follow some set guidelines or formats designed to assist
us in making better ethical decisions. Decision-making models have been designed to help leaders make
appropriate and ethical choices when faced with making tough decisions. Using a decision-making
model provides a systematic approach that encourages leaders to define their problem, to gather
important information, to apply ethical standards and values, and to identify and evaluate alternative
courses of action, and to ultimately follow through on their decision (Johnson, 2012, p. 246).
Johnson (2012) presents four such models: Kidder’s Ethical Checkpoints, The SAD Formula,
Nash’s 12 Questions, and The Case Study Method. Even though the four ethical frameworks identified
above are presented as separate approaches, combining perspectives, or ethical pluralism (Johnson,
p.178), might need to be done in order to resolve an ethic issue. Either method is fine as long as a
systematic approach to moral reasoning is conducted (Johnson, 2012, p. 246).
For the purposes of this document and to address the example of the safety screening issue, it
seems most appropriate to use the SAD Formula. This formula is designed as a simple tool to help
leaders determine if decisions similar to that of safety screening is ethically sound, and to help bring
order to confusing ethical issues. It can help answer the question of whether the process is providing
safety or if it is infringing on people’s personal rights or liberties.
The SAD Formula
The SAD formula, developed by Louis Alvin Day, builds an important element of critical
thinking into moral reasoning. It begins with an understanding of the subject to be evaluated; moves to
identifying the issues, information, and assumptions surrounding the problem; and concludes with
evaluating alternatives and reaching a conclusion (Johnson, 2012, p. 251).
The subject of safety screenings. Well before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in
2001, violent acts had been occurring at sporting events around the globe for years. With upwards of a
hundred thousand people stuffed into sports facilities to watch a competition and the international media
bringing it into the homes and businesses not in attendance, large-scale events have become a natural
place for terrorists to make a statement that is sure reach a large audience, sometime on an a global
A couple of examples are the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany where Israeli athletes
were killed by Palestinian gunmen to bring the world’s attention to the Middle East, and the 1996
Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, where a single person, Eric Rudolph, exploded a backpack full of
explosives and shrapnel, killing a couple of people, to bring attention to the issue of anti-government,
homosexuality, and abortions.
There are numerous other examples as well and all have led the sports industry, as well as the
public assembly facility management industry, to establish best practices to provide participants and
spectators alike with a safe and secure competition venue.
Issues, information, and assumptions. Because of the long and established history of violence
at sporting events, combined with the terrorist events on September 11, 2001 and the incidences of
violence in public schools and on college campuses around the world, many issues have been identified.
There are too many issues to get into for this project but the main issue is that world has changed and
schools and campuses are no longer as safe as we once thought they were.
Copious amounts of information have been collected following the many number of incidences,
and many assumptions have been made as the sports and public assembly management industries try to
determine where the next strike could possibly take place and, more importantly, how best to prevent it
from happening.
Due to the unpredictability of answering that question, it has become evident that to be able to
provide the safest possible environment for the event participants and attendees, security screening at all
entry points would provide the best and simplest means of front-line protection against violence at these
Alternatives and reaching a decision. There are, of course, alternatives to the screening
process. Some alternatives are drastic such as not allowing the public to attend competitions, limiting
the number of attendees, or not allowing the media. Another option would be to not do the screening at
all and to trust people. Other more reasonable alternatives might include the same level of screenings
that are conducted at airports around the world, but this alternative could be viewed as intrusive
violations of individual rights. These options seem either unreasonable or foolish at best.
The pat-down and metal detection level screening at sporting events already garner some
negative comments related to personal rights and invasion of personal space. There are law-abiding
concealed weapon permit holders who have objected because they feel that our policy is an
encroachment of their liberties. However, because the policy is universal and not targeting any specific
person or group, it passes the ethical standards test by following the edict of utilitarianism.
Decision evaluation. In evaluating the final decision related to conducting security screening,
however, and to address one of the weakness of The SAD Formula, the implementation phase has some
flexibility. There are different levels by which the screening process can be applied and the procedures
can be loosened or tightened as necessary depending on the event. For instance, if we know that we
have a high level government dignitary attending the game we will tighten the procedures and become
slightly more vigilant with the weapons search.
Regardless of the level, the screening process remains universal and does not attempt to singleout any person or group. It does not discriminate nor does it show favoritism toward anyone. Day’s
SAD Formula is said to have borrowed the ‘moral duties and loyalties’ part of his model from
theologian Ralph Potter (Johnson, 2012, p. 253). This part of the model takes into account important
duties or loyalties when making critical choices; loyalty to self (individual conscience), loyalty to
attendees, loyalty to vulnerable crowds, loyalty to fellow employees, loyalty to others in the same
profession, and loyalty to the public. In assessing the decision to conduct safety screenings at sporting
events, it is clear that all of these duties and loyalties are addressed, making the decision to perform the
screenings an ethical one because it truly does provide the greatest good for the greatest number.
Developing a personal approach to decision-making is essential for today’s leaders. It is the
foundation from which all decisions should be made, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of
each ethical framework is essential to sound decision-making skills.
Decision-making that incorporates preconceived experiences, emotions, and intuitions, as well as
conscience reasoning (Johnson, 2012) have the chance to become better structured decisions that will
keep leaders on the straight and narrow path towards ethically sound decision-making skills. Our
decisions will also stand a better chance if we are asked to defend them at any time.
Having guidelines or formats by which to follow help us make these critical decisions is
imperative as well. Having a decision-making format encourages leaders to have a plan, to be able to
properly plan and to defend their decisions. So often we “intuitively come to a rapid decision based on
our emotions and cultural background” (Johnson, 2012, p. 247). This process works out most of the
time but there are times when we need to slow down and run a decision through a proven decisionmaking format to be sure that our decisions are ethically sound.
Johnson, C. E. (2012). Meeting the challenges of leadership; Casting light and shadow. (4th ed.).
Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Shapiro, J. P., & Gross, S. J.(2008). Ethical educational leadership in turbulent times: (Re)solving moral
dilemmas. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Velasquez, M., Andre, C., Shanks, T., Meyer, M., (2010). Thinking ethically: A framework for moral
decision making. Santa Clara University: Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
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