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Breaking the rules, just this once

Resisting the temptation to forgo your ethics

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in Career Management,Profiles in Leadership,Workplace Communication

Author and professor Clayton Christensen played on the Oxford University basketball team when it made it to the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament’s final four.

It was a magical time for Christensen and his teammates until he found out that the championship game would be played on a Sunday.

“I had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play ball on Sunday,” explains Christensen.

The coach, upon hearing the news, was shocked, as were his teammates. Christensen was no bench-warmer; he was the starting center.

“Can’t you break the rules just this one time?” the coach pleaded.

The truth is, he could have. He could have played just one Sunday, then gone back to keeping the promise he’d made.

But for Christensen, who is a deeply religious man, the commitment could not be broken. After thinking carefully about it, he told the team his decision.

Resisting the temptation turned out to be a pivotal moment, he now says. Why? “My life has been an unending stream of extenuating circumstances,” he says. “Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed.”

Lesson: If you stick to your ethics 10 out of 10 times, you won’t regret where you end up. The challenge is in defining for yourself where you stand, and drawing a clear line.

— Adapted from “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business Review.

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