When I was 30 years old and working for AT&T, a group of guys and I formed a group we called Personal Board of Directors. We helped each other set and reach goals in 12 areas of life including faith, family, health, and career. We helped each other prioritize life’s activities and create a standard by which we lived our lives. I should have seen a move to pastoral ministry coming back then, but at the time it just felt like trying to do the right thing in life and focus on rightly ordered priorities. Those priorities led to living according to standards.
Companies write codes of conduct all the time. What I have done for years is write one for myself. Simply writing words on paper is no guarantee you will behave or live according to the code. Over the years, however, I have found it helps, especially for people of faith seeking to live the high ethical standard Jesus set. Take the time. Find a place to think, carve out a half a day, and work on it.
Reasons to have a written code of conduct
It holds you accountable to a standard. If you say you are striving to be a person of integrity and you are not, having a code of conduct gives trusted people who care about you permission to ask, “How is this behavior consistent with your code?” Knowing that such a conversation is possible is good for a person.
It builds trust in the people around you. When people know you are striving to be beyond reproach sexually, or a person who looks after the vulnerable people of society, or other standards, they know you are more likely to keep those standards. Writing them down and sharing them strengthens the resolve to keep them. This then builds confidence and trust in you.
It helps you live more fully and freely. Standards create boundaries and boundaries create freedom. Children on a playground without a fence surrounding the playground area tend to hover close to the playground equipment. Children on a playground with a fence around it run freely up to the edge of the fence. Clear boundaries allow people to live more fully and freely.
It helps you live the life you want to live. The code of conduct reduces to words the best of who you are and hope to be. When you live out the best of who you are over the course of months, years, and decades, this then shapes your legacy.
How to write a code of conduct
Take inventory of your life. Answer some questions. Who am I? What are formative or important events of my life and what do they mean to me? What is important to me and why? Ask a friend to help. Think about your character traits, personality type, successes and failures. Takes notes as you do and review your notes.
Write down things you believe. What are your core beliefs? What makes your life meaningful? Think about big themes like integrity, fairness, fidelity, respect. Think about the Golden Rule. Think about areas of belief such as faith, family, health, and career.
Write a draft of your code of conduct. Here, you put it all together. Write in complete, short sentences with specific statements, such as, “I will be committed to lifelong learning and growing.” Make sure you have two parts. The first part explains the purpose of the code and the second part lists the points of the code.
Review your draft. Look it over for content and clarity. Have a trusted friend or friends review it.
Sign, date, and put it in a prominent place. Signing and dating it deepens the sense of commitment. Once i sign it, I keep mine at the church. I have a shorter set of standards under glass next to my computer and look at it all the time.
Write your code and then review and update it regularly. Things change. New challenges need to be addressed. I review and update mine no less than annually. After that, it is time to live your code. The point is for this to be a living document. Part of the reason I review mine annually with the elders, regularly with new employees, and occasionally with staff is to keep it top of mind.
The following are pieces from different codes of conduct just to get the mind thinking about language and styles of writing.
A sample preamble. “I desire to be a person of good character. I strive to live with integrity in all areas of life and do not hold to the unrealistic standard of perfection. I do this because it’s who I want to be and because I hope to be a positive example for others. With that, I commit to the following code of conduct.”
On excellence. “I will always strive to be excellent at everything I do. I will not settle for anything less than the best, and will do everything I can to achieve the best results in my career.”
On work. “I will under-promise and over-deliver.”
On integrity. I will keep my promises and honor my commitments at home and work.
On honesty. “I will never cheat or break any rules which might result in me or someone else getting hurt.”
On physical self-care. I will take care of my body. This includes ample exercise and rest, proper nutrition, and annual examinations by a doctor.
On family. “I recognize that the family is still the basic level of government in this society and promise to pray for, encourage, challenge, be present to, and support my family and extended family.”
On humbleness. “I will not let any accolades or praise affect my attitude, and will always be respectful and polite to my peers, superiors and juniors. I will make sure to never hurt or mock anyone intentionally.”
A sample close. “If any of the above points of code are missing, neglected, or abused to such an extent that my character or integrity is undermined or damaged, I will deal with the issue through study, talking with a friend, honest confession, entering into a coaching or counseling relationship, or other appropriate means.”
All of the above are written to get you started. Use your creativity and write what is authentic to you. Write it and then live out your personal code of conduct.
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