Several years ago when I was in the twilight of my rugby career, I played a match against a touring side from Australia. An incident that happened after the match has stayed with me. One of the opponents came up to me and said, “You hit me really hard out there.” Cathy, my wife, said, “Oh Bud, you shouldn’t be so rough.” The other guy responded by saying, “No harm. It was a good clean hit. That’s what the game is all about—play hard, but fair.”

I was reminded of this incident as I watched the Steelers–Bengals playoff game. I’m a Steelers fan. I grew up watching them play. My father had a friend who played for them back in the 1950s. He gave me one of his used helmets. It was one of my childhood’s most cherished possessions.

It was a hard fought game, and it looked as if the Steelers were going to lose. However, late in the game the Bengals got two penalties that advanced the ball deep into their own territory, allowing the Steelers to kick a field goal and win the game. One of those penalties came as a result of a vicious hit by one of the Bengals. It was unnecessary and, in my opinion, a cheap shot aimed at injuring the Steelers player.

Ethical Practice is a Win-Win, Even if You Don’t Win This Time Around

This brings me to the point I want to make in this column. During your career you will find yourself competing—internally for jobs, for promotions and externally for market share for your product. It’s important to compete hard, but fairly. Ethical practice is one of the things we preach at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver where I teach. Ethical practice means that you do play hard, but fair. You do the best you can, letting your work carry the day.

Life is competition. If you compete fairly you’re likely to come out on top a lot of the time. Even if you don’t win, you’ll know that you acted in an ethical manner and while that’s a reward in and of itself, you’ll find that acting ethically—doing the right thing—will get you noticed in a positive way in the long run.

I have a friend who is a senior VP at a bank here in Denver. When his bank was acquired, all of the other senior folks were let go. He was asked to stay on, with an increase in responsibility and salary. When he asked why, the CEO of the acquiring bank told him that they conducted a series of interviews in which they asked bank employees who they thought was the best leader. His name came up in almost every interview. The reason employees gave in regard to his leadership: He was “honest and a straight shooter.”

Play hard, but fair—whether you’re playing contact sports, climbing the corporate ladder or building a strong brand—and you’ll be on the road to success.