“Once you’ve compromised in the smallest thing, then life is piece of cake.”
J. R. Ewing, character in the TV series “Dallas”
The world is in desperate need of leaders filled with integrity. And it doesn’t matter if you call it ethics in business or interpersonal relationships with your coworkers, customers, friends, and family members. We are in desperate need of people who do the right thing.
If you want to be a person of integrity, at home or on the job, I’ve found that you must do four things.
1. You’ve got to know what you stand for or you’ll fall for anything.
One father did an especially good job of that … as reported in his story, “Brownies With A Difference.” Unlike some parents who are hard pressed to explain to their children why some music, movies, books and magazines are not acceptable material for them to listen to or see, this father knew what he stood for. And so he didn’t fall for the excuses most kids give their parents.
His kids wanted to see a particular PG-13 movie. As the kids argued, the movie had their favorite actors. Everyone else was seeing it. It only suggested sex but never really showed it. The language was pretty good, as there wasn’t too much cursing. His teen-aged kids did admit there was a scene where a building and a bunch of people were blown up, but the violence was just the normal stuff. It wasn’t too bad. And, even if there were a few bad things in the movie, the special effects were fabulous and the plot was action packed.
Even with all the justification the teens made for the PG-13 rating, the father still wouldn’t give in. He didn’t even give his children a satisfactory explanation for saying, “No.” He just said, “No!”
A little later on that evening the father asked his teens if they would like some brownies he had baked. He explained that he’d taken the family’s favorite recipe and added a little something new. The children asked what it was. The father calmly replied that he had added dog po_p. However, he assured them it was only a little bit. All the other ingredients were gourmet quality, and he had taken great care to bake the brownies at the precise temperature for the exact time. He was sure the brownies would be superb.
Even with their father’s assurance, the teens would not take any. The father acted surprised. After all, it was only one small part that was causing them to be so stubborn. He was certain they would hardly notice it. Still the teens held firm and would not try the brownies.
The father then told his children how the movie they wanted to see was just like the brownies. Our minds are fooled into believing that just a little bit of evil won’t matter. But, the truth is even a little bit of po_p makes the difference between a great treat and something disgusting and totally unacceptable.
The father went on to explain that even though the movie industry would have us believe that most of today’s movies are acceptable for adults and youth, they are not.
Now, when the father’s children want to see something that is of questionable material, the father merely asks them if they would like some of his special dog po_p brownies. That closes the subject.
The story begs the question: “Do you know what you stand for?” As I tell people in my program on “Take This Job and Love It!,” if you don’t know what you value, if you don’t what you cherish, if you don’t know what you really, Really, REALLY believe, your only other alternative is to settle for less. And you’ll end up with questionable ethics, a lack of integrity, doing the wrong thing.
The 19th century poet and essayist, Walter Savage Landor, had it right. He said, “People, like nails, lose their effectiveness when they lose direction and begin to bend.”
2. You’ve got to do the right thing … and sometimes the hard thing … when you’re tempted
to do the easy and wrong thing.
I learned a long time ago that following the path of least resistance is what makes men and rivers crooked.
That’s why lying, deceit and cover ups are so prevalent. It’s often easier to do that than act with integrity. And it’s often easier to make excuses or blame someone else for your failures or lack of performance than say something like, “I made a mistake … I’m sorry … Please help me understand … or … I need to change the way I do things.”
I think Bill Moore, the principal of the Temp Control Mechanical Service Corporation, is right on target when he says, “We empower our employees to make decisions by asking:
Is it good for the customer?
Is it good for TCMS?
Is it the right thing to do?”
Of course, the person who lacks integrity may try to cop out and make you think he or she just didn’t know what was the right thing to do. But 5000 years ago, an ancient author by the name of Micah said, “O people, the LORD has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right.”
In other words, Micah was saying that your Higher Power (whatever that means to you) has given you an inner ability to know right from wrong. And doing business ethically is simply a matter of adhering to a system of moral values. Make it your practice to never do in private what you would not want revealed in public!
3. You’ve got to be honest even though it may be inconvenient.
As Isaac Asimov noted, “I don’t subscribe to the thesis, ‘Let the buyer beware.’ I prefer the disregarded one that goes, ‘Let the seller be honest.'”
That same kind of honesty is what helped John Wooden become one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time and develop some of the best players (and people) of all time. Wooden knew there was a lot more to basketball than winning the game. When he and I keynoted a program together a few years ago, he told the audience the same thing he told his players. He said, “Be prepared and be honest … What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player.”
It’s impossible to claim that you live with integrity and have business ethics … if you’re dishonest. And it’s impossible to earn the trust of others if you’re dishonest.
Mark Thompson, the head of the H. A. Thompson & Sons in Bismarck, North Dakota, knows that. As he puts it, “In a small town, the word-of-mouth can kill you. So for 104 years, we have relied on absolute honesty and treating our customers like family.”
And just in case you don’t believe me, try this little experiment. Go around saying one thing and doing another, seek personal gain above shared gain, withhold information, lie, tell half-truths, or become closed-minded and see how many friends and allies you have. You will not be seen as a person who is doing the right thing, and you will not find good and healthy people wanting to work with you or live with you.
It’s one of the reasons I get so upset with almost all of our politicians. Instead of adhering to the doctrine of honesty at all times, they’ll say just about anything to get elected. Ronald Reagan got it right when he said, “Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first.”
4. You’ve got to do what is right 24/7.
In other words, business ethics or personal integrity is not a once-and-done proposition. It’s a battle you face every moment of every day in every decision you make and every action you take.
Kraig Haynes, the CEO of Haynes Mechanical Systems, teaches that to all of us his employees. He says, “We’re constantly reminding every one of our employees that WE ARE dependent on our customers. They are NOT dependent on us. We NEED our customers … so we had better being doing the right thing for them 24/7, not just some of the time.”
So the question is not how good you have become but how good you can be. In fact, if you’re a person who is no longer anxious to do better, you’re done for. Or as one person said, you serve people but you do not answer to them. You answer to a Higher Power.
The actor Robert Downey, Jr. has had to learn that lesson the hard way. And he may still be learning. But one rather insightful thing he said was, “I used to be so convinced that happiness was the goal, yet all those years chasing after it, I was unhappy in the pursuit. Maybe the goal really should be a life that values honor, duty, good work, friends, and family.”
The only thing I would change in Downey’s commentary is to remove the word “maybe.” Our goal has to be a life that values honor and duty for sure.