Much has been written about integrity. In fact, in the hundreds of team meetings and board retreats I have facilitated, integrity is, seldom, NOT a team value. However, I intend not to focus on what we perceive integrity to be; yet, what integrity is not.
Let’s start with a common definition: Webster defines integrity as a firm adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. Here are a few examples, from real life, which I believe shine a bright light on what integrity is not.
Do any of these sound familiar?
- A person hears a fabulous key note or presentation; and they believe it to be so fabulous, they take portions of it – change a few words – ‘just to be honest’ – and begin to tout this as their own brilliant idea.
- A person asks someone for a treasured family recipe. They don’t really want to give it; yet rather than to say no, they give it to that person – less an ingredient. (Yes, that has happened to me, and yes, it does happen….often in the South)
- A person/s are exposed to an idea, a word, a term or philosophy which rings true to them, on which someone else has built their methodology and often their company. They think that term is so unique and powerful; they take that term, a few key phrases, and build their approach around that same approach.
- A person has the opportunity to speak the whole truth about an issue – personally, socially or professionally – and they opt to tell the truth. However, they don’t tell ‘everything.’ They just tell portions of the story – they omit key points; most often swaying the point, certainly to their favor. (You know the drill….think about a sales person’s sales participation and their quest for sales credit/quota commission, think about sales/consulting methodology aspects – the consulting world is full of intellectual property wars – even social and political issues…..just turn on the TV or log onto YouTube.)
- A person says one thing to you, another version of what they have said to you to someone else, and yet, another version to another person of the same story. I wish I had a nickel for every time that has happened to me in my life!
- A person is newly hired onto a team from outside the company and that person begins a quick study on how to usurp the person that hired them in a quest for fame, fortune, and power. Discrediting, sabotaging, back-stabbing, hording of ideas….the list is long.
I have had every single one of these happen to me in my career … some in the past few months.
Many in big business will say: this is why we have trademarks, copyrights, and intellectual property infringement law; and this is learning to ‘play the game;’ survival of the fittest. If someone doesn’t ‘have it’ – then they are ‘fair game’. Sure, I ‘get it’ – remember, I lived in that world for over 25 years. It goes without saying that we must protect ourselves, our company, and our work product.
However, the issue I am raising is much more systemic in our culture. For I am quite certain there are many in business today who don’t share everything with their internal counterparts for fear of being ‘poached’ of the good ideas. I am also quite certain there are those in business who perhaps don’t lie by commission; yet lie by omission – just not sharing everything, just sharing ‘enough.’
Where do we think this behavior is taking us? To a constant shade of grey? To a moral stance that is our interpretation instead of one that is based on honesty and integrity?
So what, you may say? “That is life.” Well, I firmly believe that is wrong.
We have an obligation to own up to our responsibilities – and that means stopping this insanity of stealing and poaching and, not respecting one another as creators, individuals, contributors, and builders of our companies, our communities, our nation, and our world.
Two things to consider:
First: Be Impeccable with your Word. A fabulous book: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom Book became a ‘book of the month’ for many of my teams over my career. If you not have read it yet – read it. One of the agreements is to “be impeccable with your word.” This basically means telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Often in today’s world, the operative word is ‘whole.’ Many just simply omit key facts or nuances. This is an interesting observation – just listen to national news, politicians, Fortune executives, Oprah, even personal acquaintances. It is amazing to watch the ‘spin factor’ and the power of just ‘omitting a few key facts.’ What is the whole truth?!
I will offer one personal test case of integrating this philosophy into life. With one of our most successful teams in a publicly traded software company, we used this book as a gauge for how we could grow and learn together as a team; and this book and particularly this agreement of ‘being impeccable with our word’ became our mantra. We were in the fast paced world of dot com frenzy, software sales and mergers, and greed was rampant. This agreement saved our team and company in more ways than we will ever probably realize. We were not always the most popular at the time; yet I know from the CEO through the ranks, we were the most respected and valued at the end of the day.
Second: Stop stealing. A person’s original ideas will always be more authentic, rich, and potent than anything they ‘borrow’ or steal. Period. A person can rationalize due to complacency, laziness, or their perceived belief that they can ‘take this idea and really make it come to life’ (yes, I have heard that one of late, as well).
What I would suggest is simply this: If a person loves the idea, thinks it had merit, power, brilliance, cache, etc., then simply get permission, give credit or notice to that company, and source the source. It is truly that simple.
Again, this conjures up ‘legal jargon’ and it certainly gives many an attorney a steady annuity stream; and yes, there will always be a need for the law. Yet, it does not have to be that complicated. Just give notice to those that deserve it! Also, folks, please realize that YOUR ideas will be so much more powerful if they are truly YOURS. That is the beauty of pure authenticity and the power of telling your story… not plagiarizing someone else’s.
This philosophy and principle of integrity starts with each one of us. One person at a time. A germ of an idea at a time. It does not have to be on a soap box, on the national stage, or even in a national court of law. It is in the small acts, small companies, and small businesses which have often set the stage for many of our greatest achievements.
- We are responsible for protecting it.
- We foster all ideas – ours and others.
- We blow on all the embers of ideas of our fellow workers, our colleagues, our friends, our clients, our coaches, our partners….we don’t steal them.
- We give credit. We give public and private recognition.
- We make referrals expecting nothing in return.
- We are frightfully honest – in all arenas.
- We ask the questions of which we are afraid of the answers.
- We own the answers.
We are impeccable with our word – written, spoken, acted – regardless of the consequences. That is what integrity looks like.
About the Author: Kristin Kaufman is founder of Alignment, Inc.™, formed in 2007 to help individuals, corporations, boards of directors and non-profits find alignment within themselves and their organizations. A prolific writer, Kristin’s first book, Is This Seat Taken?, centers on her global experiences seeding her journey toward alignment. The book is scheduled for release in November 2011. Kristin is on Twitter as @KristinKaufman.
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So true, Greg. Thanks for your comment and for sharing your experience!
In 1989 I accepted the position of Area Manager of Human Resources at SW Bell Telephone in Little Rock. One of my predecessor said these words; “Greg, you can work on an employee’s quality, quantity, safety and attendance but YOU cannot instill honesty and integrity in a person. They either have it or they don’t. You will not be good enough nor lucky enough to catch a thief the first time they steal from you and until they change their heart, they will steal from you again.” Jim McMains to Greg Gilbert in 1989.
Wow! What a lesson that has held up over two decades of leadership, HR and keynotes. Since retiring and beginning speaking on leadership and HR, I have shared Mr. McMains’ words with thousands.
A few years ago, after a discussion, a friend of mine said, “you’re more honest about that than I am” as we parted ways. I drove about 15 minutes and it hit me. You can’t put the word more in front of honest. Either you are or you aren’t . You can put an ER on the end of fast, smart, quick and slow, but there is no honestER. Life and spell check will not accept.