I is for Integrity


I_IntegrityToday I'm in Waco, Texas spending the day with graduate students at Baylor University.  Ah to be 20-something again.  It reminds me of my time at Enron.  Actually that's why I've been invited.   I'm honored to be sitting on a 2-person panel discussion with Phil Wedemeyer, a public accounting leader who now serves on many corporate boards after retiring from Arthur Andersen post-Enron. Our topic?  Business ethics.

So...when I got the call from Dr. Gia Chevis, I couldn't resist the opportunity to come.  Business ethics is the heart and soul of the "executive MBA program" I've been on ... for 17 years.

Success without integrity is failure.  I is for Integrity.

When I studied at LSU, I remember sitting in my business ethics course at the journalism school.  Dr. Matthew Reavy told us we'd never forget him and he was right.  He explained to my senior section of budding journalists that he couldn't nor wouldn't  teach us ethics.  He said, "One day you'll be forced to make a really tough decision.  You'll be at a fork in the road.  And on that day you'll remember me telling you this story.  Because ethics comes down to who you are, what you value and how you decide to respond to moral dilemmas you'll face.  Integrity is everything."

At 21, I didn't get it.  But he was right.

I remember Dr. Reavy often.  Sadly I've come across some pretty interesting dilemmas in my career and I remember the day he told that story, the shirt he wore and if I were close enough I bet I could remember what kind of cologne he wore!  That story had a profound effect on me.  It's been a defining moment I return to a lot when I need to be reminded of my innocence and the carefree days of college when most dilemmas were deciding what I was going to consume: beer, pizza, or both?


What is integrity?

I used to think integrity was about your approach.  The more time I've spent in business, I've learned its more encompassing.  Integrity is a value ... not a priority.   It has everything to do with having principles.  My top four include... respect, honesty, accountability, transparency.

What are your principles? What are the 3-5 things you stand for no matter what?  

Being principled sometimes gets you the badge of "unpopular".

So here's the problem with the truth:  No one really wants to hear it.  I believe the worst thing than being lied to is knowing you weren't worth the truth.

The good news is you can't dispute the facts.  And if you lay out all of the data, 1+1 is always going to equal 2.  It takes a lot of courage to speak the truth today.  It means putting yourself out there.  Oh, it's so risky too, right?   My friend, we live in a world that wants to hear nothing but good news. (And I'm an optimist, but let's get real.)  People like hearing everything is "fine".  But that's when we need to be asking, "what don't we know?" or "what isn't fine?"  

Have you ever had to give a message someone didn't want to hear?  How did it go?  What did you learn?  

Why don't more people speak up?   F-E-A-R.

Fear steps in the way of a lot of things, and sadly so does money and job security.


"I have to pay for my kid's education.  That's why I don't say anything."  I've heard this more often than I've seen people speak up.  What a way to live...in fear.  I have to pay for my kid's education too, but I also have to look at myself in the mirror and know I am doing the right thing.   I choose to put integrity first over money.

I was once asked to lie on a report. (Actually it's happened more than once sadly.)  Guess what I did.  I said NO.  What happened?  Well after I stunned leadership with an answer they didn't expect, I got invariably got labeled.  I became unpopular to those who didn't want to hear the truth and popular to those looking for a voice.  It felt good saying NO...you know why?  Because I got to stand for a whole group of people who just needed to see it was okay to say NO.

When have you encountered fear in speaking up and doing the right thing?


Consistency is key.

I've consistently chosen the path of unpopular and NO FEAR.  This is a personal choice.   It hasn't been easy but taking a consistent approach certainly helps others to be clear about who you are and what you stand for.

Are you consistent in your thoughts and actions? 

  • So define you principles.  It's not hard to make decisions once you know what your value are.
  • Don't accept "green" as the automatic "all things are a go".
  • Let go of your fear (even if it means you don't say something but you gracefully exit), and ...
  • Be consistent.
The world needs more people (like you) to do the right thing when no one is looking.

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