By Daniel Bobinski
Integrity is not a word we should write on our to-do lists. Integrity is what our to-do lists should be written on.
What is integrity? It’s defined as being honest and having strong moral principles. It’s also defined as being whole and undivided. That second definition resonates with me. When I was in the Navy, it was imperative during battle conditions that we maintained our ship’s “watertight integrity.” This meant that throughout the entire ship, all hatches and ports were closed tightly and sealed. That way, if the ship were to take a hit, any flooding would be contained only to the space where the hull was breached, and the ship could remain afloat.
Maintaining watertight integrity was essential to our survival.
Unfortunately, people sometimes disregard integrity – that is, their moral principles – in their quest for achievement. If there’s something they want, too often the end will justify the means. Some people may recall the European soccer referee who was expelled for life for fixing games. What did he want? The financial kickback for ensuring a certain team won.
On this side of the pond, several American football teams have been fined after they were caught illegally videotaping their opponents’ practices. For them, their desire to go to the Super Bowl justified their cheating.
I also remember reading that officials at the Golden Globes once got sued for taking kickbacks and selling media favors so that less-than-wonderful movies got undeserved publicity.
The problem in all of this? A lack of integrity leads to a lack of trust. And, lack of trust in business and industry leads to reduced levels of commitment and engagement – not only from those working in an organization, but also from vendors and customers.
In my own philosophical musings, I maintain that every choice people make is an effort to bring about a better life for themselves. Think about it. Doctors endure years of rigorous schooling and internships so that they can have a high-paying job that involves helping others. Fighter pilots endure years of intense combat training so they can fly highly technical aircraft in defense of the freedoms and liberty we enjoy as Americans.
But it goes even deeper. My belief that every choice is an effort to bring a better life for ourselves includes even selfless, altruistic efforts that give us nothing tangible in return. Why? Because such actions are made from a belief that they are the right things to do, and if we do them we create a better world for ourselves and our children.
Unfortunately, during some people’s choices to bring about better lives for themselves, integrity gets swept aside. It befuddles me. Do they just not see the ripple effects? Do they really believe the end justifies the means?
I’m going back a few years here, but I’d like to call your attention to baseball’s Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. Almost every little leaguer dreams of playing in the pros, and especially hitting home runs. Growing up a baseball fan, I remember admiring the record set by Roger Maris: 61 home runs in a single season. That record held for 37 years, until Mark McGwire smashed it in 2001 by hitting the ball out of the park 70 times that season. Three years after that, Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record by hitting 73.
You would think that with such impressive performances, both men would be guaranteed spots in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But, in the end, neither man received this honor. After their retirements, both men admitted to steroid use, and with that, neither of them ever garnered enough votes to be inducted into baseball’s most prestigious club. Not only will their home run records forever carry an asterisk in the record books, their lack of integrity forever stained their accomplishments, and their records ring empty.
After learning about their use of performance enhancing drugs, I rarely watch baseball anymore. Their lack of integrity caused me to lose interest, mainly because I’d lost trust that what I was watching was authentic.
Now I’d like you to think about every place you’ve ever worked. My guess is that if the organization’s leadership demonstrated integrity, you knew you could trust them. Even if you disagreed with some of their choices, you knew they were acting on principle; that they were seeking the right thing. But, if there were holes in their integrity, I’ll guess that it impacted your level of commitment, which, in turn, probably impacted the intensity and/or the commitment of your performance.
To be truly successful, integrity has to be part of our foundation. Yes, we must take risks and work hard to achieve our goals, but the end should not justify the means if the means are dishonest.
Achieving success should not come at the price of integrity.
That said, maintaining integrity can be tough when our leaders or coworkers are lacking it. But I also think people need to set and strive for high standards within themselves. In other words, don’t lower your standards, even when others do so.
The following three points, taught me long ago by a wise, learned man, might serve as a foundation for your integrity framework. As I said at the beginning of this column, integrity is not a word we should write on our to-do lists. Integrity is what our to-do lists should be written on.
1. Be Honest. People rarely do business with those they don’t trust.
2. Work Hard. It’s amazing how fulfilling an honest day’s work can be.
3. Consider that Every Action has Consequences. In large part, your integrity is defined by what you do when no one is looking.
I believe people can set good examples and reap wonderful rewards through maintaining integrity. But with that, you just can’t make integrity one of your goals. You truly excel when you establish and achieve your goals on the strength of your integrity.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. runs two businesses. One helps teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. The other helps companies improve their training programs. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 375-7606.