“Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.” ~ Paul Wellstone
Intending to write about integrity, I wanted to highlight someone as a pillar of trustworthiness; the epitome of integrity. Several people came to mind. Then, in a flash, an image of the antithesis presented. And I found myself visualizing a diminished Lance Armstrong.
Personal integrity is not subtle; there are no shades of grey. You either demonstrate it or you don’t. Although he never failed a drug test during his cycling reign, Armstrong’s legacy is now irreparably tarnished. In August he was stripped of his seven Tour de France victories and banned for life from competitive cycling. Lance didn’t mislead the world, he lied.
Warren Buffet said it best, “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.” A person’s dishonesty will eventually catch up to them. It may take years, but it’s almost certain that at some point there will be a reckoning.
Asked rhetorically: Why, in so many cases, do individuals who commit acts of dishonesty tell themselves they had a perfectly valid reason why the end result justified their lack of integrity?
Fortunately, there is a flip side. The movie Jerry Maguire exemplifies it well. In the movie, Jerry Maguire is a sports agent. He loses his high-end job as an agent to elite athletes for a memo he wrote. Jerry felt it was wrong to talk his clients into doing something that was life threatening in order for he and his company to make money. He finally grew a conscience and his new-found integrity would no longer allow it. After his memo was sent to all employees of the firm he worked with, he was fired by a friend. Jerry turned that experience around and started his own agency with a focus on personal service for elite athletes, grounded in family values and his own personal integrity.
Invariably, we take on the traits of those with whom we surround ourselves. If we surround ourselves with people who are dishonest and willing to cut corners to get ahead, then we’ll likely find ourselves following a pattern of first enduring their behavior, then accepting their behavior, and finally adopting their behavior.
If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity, here are three actions you can take:
- Face the obstacles that cause you to lie or violate your moral code. This might involve finding a more suitable job, facing your fears about how others might perceive you, or admit when you make a mistake. Recover, and get back on track.
- Help others in need. If you are in a position to contribute to the moral development of others or help them do something they cannot accomplish on their own, offer to assist. Help others accept responsibility for delivering on their promises.
- Identify aspects of your behavior that require change. Reflect on your interactions with others to determine specific areas in need of improvement. For example, if you are late for work every day and feel guilty about creating excuses for this behavior, this may be an opportunity to develop greater personal integrity.