07/17/2012 02:34 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2012

Superman vs. Lex Luthor: Riding the Line of Ethics and Success in Business

I am a huge Superman fan.  I have a bookcase in my living room adorned with action figures, graphic novels and other forms of nerdware.   At the center of it all is a small poster of the Superman Versus Muhammed Ali comic, a Bizzaro Superman action figure and other Kryptonian collectibles.  If I put myself on the couch I would guess that my love of all things Super stems from two things.  One, his clearly kick-ass superpowers, Superman could clearly rule this frail world if he ever decided.  Two, his restraint in never doing so.

However, there is one thing that I think drives every Superman fan absolutely crazy.  It is the one thing that ultimately stands to destroy Superman.  It's the reason Superman gets his butt whooped at the beginning of every comic book, cartoon and movie.  Superman's greatest weakness is not kryptonite (after all, how much of that stuff can there be on the planet?), it's his unwavering ethics.

Lex Luthor, on the other hand, is pure evil.  He has absolutely no super powers, aside from his ruthlessness -- which has, on many an occasion, pushed the Man of Steel near death  Lex's cunning and wit made him the most powerful man in the world, he was even president for a period of time. All the power a business man desires, all the money an entrepreneur could imagine Lex got by manipulating and conniving at a superhuman level.

Being ethical is defined as "being in accordance with the rules or standards for right conduct or practice, especially the standards of a profession."  The struggle with being ethical for most, and especially those in business, is simply that ethics costs.  Superman's code of ethics, generally speaking, prevents him not only from using his full might to conquer and control, but from even defending himself to his fullest ability.  Is there a point where being ethical is in fact self-destructive?  It's the steroids in baseball argument.  If everyone is cheating is anyone cheating?

Over the last few years we have seen a myriad of businesses and government officials be exposed for being less than scrupulous. Ponzi schemespredatory loans, back-door governing with politicians in the pockets of lobbyists leaves us all wondering how to win on such a slanted playing field. Through the murky waters of ethical practices your clients fatigue with fending off wolves and vultures may in fact bring a great boost to your business.

Recent indicators are showing more and more that consumers are searching for a handshake and some accountability in their business dealings. As the quality of products becomes more and more similar, consumers are putting a premium on things like customer service and user experience.  Put plainly, a handshake and personal interaction with smaller businesses is becoming more desirable to the supposed "safety" of working with larger entities.  Consumers care less about mistakes than they do about those mistakes being rectified and those in charge acknowledging their errors.

So as it turns out, Superman's willingness to take a good old-fashioned butt whooping is as strong an asset as anything else he has in his arsenal.  Superman's ethos and Lex's ruthlessness is the business equivalent of long-term sustainability and the short-term money grab.  If the key to small business growth is repeat customers and referrals, then the equation is simple. Brand trust plus brand service equals brand loyalty.  It is why the people of metropolis trust an alien with the power of a Greek god who could rule or destroy them all at a whim and at the same time fear and loath a common man with no more physical power than anyone else on the planet.

To borrow from another legendary superhero, or Voltaire, "With great power comes great responsibility." The reward for that responsibility is long-term growth and prosperity.

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