First Do No Harm: Creating an Ethical Mindset

By Cecilia Sepp, CAE, CNAP

Dictionary.com defines ethics as “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity, [e.g.] medical ethics also enter into the question.” Making decisions that affect the organization you serve as a board member requires the application of ethics within that activity as well.

In medicine the first rule for physicians and other healthcare professionals is first do no harm. This is the basis of all ethics within the healthcare area and is applied not just to patient care but to research and interactions with others.

When it comes to ethical leadership within a healthcare Association that represents medical professionals, the same attitude should apply to decision making in the board room. As a member of a health care Association board of directors it is your responsibility to first do no harm to the organization or its members.

This is where an ethical mindset is a valuable reference point for making decisions that impact the people beyond the boardroom. But what is an ethical mindset?

To have an ethical mindset, an individual needs to think about the repercussions and impact of a decision or action on those around them. Who will benefit? Who will lose? Is the decision or action one that supports the organization’s mission – or the egos of the people in the room?

If your organization has a code of ethics for its members, or specifically for board members, these should be used as a reference point and kept top of mind when considering how to lead the organization into the future. One way to do this is to review the code of ethics at the beginning of every board meeting. Reminding yourself and your colleagues about the ethics of leadership will support the creation of an ethical mindset and lead to stronger outcomes for the organization.

While board members make decisions, they are not able to do whatever they want. They are responsible for the organization’s assets, culture, member experience, representation to the public, and leadership of their profession. What boards do matter because it has an impact on multiple groups and individuals.

Most importantly, boards have a responsibility to each other. That is where ethical behavior starts and sets the tone for the work of the board of directors. First, do no harm to each other. Treat each other ethically and respectfully and this will be the message you send to your colleagues, your members, and the public.


This article also appears on Association Strategies.

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