Make Integrity More than just a Buzzword


Businesses love the word “Integrity.” It makes them feel good about themselves. You can eat “Food with Integrity,” at Chipotle and kill cockroaches with a clear conscience courtesy of S.C. Johnson, who “…act with integrity at all times.” And certainly you can be reassured that the New York Times Company believes that “…integrity is the basis…” for their reputation (I won’t judge if you want to make of that whatever you like). But if you worked for any of these companies, could you say that everyone around you acts with integrity? If your company, like these ones, has integrity or ethics somewhere in its mission and principles, do you feel that your workplace operates with these values?

By definition, integrity is about honesty first, and the strength to stand behind what is true and moral second. It is always about speaking up when it needs to be done, and never about allowing things to go on in front of you just because you’re not actively involved.

I recently sat down to do a little bit of meditative self reflection (I’m on a yoga journey, but that’s another post), and as I sat there staring at nothing I realized that I had been participating in more and more office chatter that was going beyond venting and veering off towards gossip. I also recognized that this is, although wrong, natural and unavoidable in office settings. I decided to make an effort to stop participating but not to make a fuss if others chose to behave that way. But then something happened; I walked in on a cruel pantomime of a co-worker. We are talking full on mockery with voice and movement impressions that were deeply unkind and honestly pretty pathetic behavior for a grown up.

That was a moment when I knew the right thing to do was to say something. All I said was something to the effect of: “Hey guys, I know we’re all frustrated, but that’s enough, it’s over the line.” Would you believe me if I told you I got attacked for being too sensitive? That I was advised by a leader, in front of my colleagues, that “Everyone is entitled to their opinion and you cannot tell them how to express themselves?” I couldn’t believe it either, but it happened.

When you work for a company that has “Integrity,” it only suggests that they will have a focus on ensuring that their product delivers and that the business as a whole is conducted in a way that is open, honest, and ethical. We hope. It in no way guarantees that they will hire managers of outstanding moral fiber. It doesn’t even guarantee that they will take action against those who it turns out are of pathetic and appalling moral fiber. That is why you have to have integrity of your own. You have to make sure that everything you do is ok with you. Ok enough that if your mom read about anything you did, anything at all, on the front page of the NY Times, you’d say “Yup! I did that.” If at any moment you think you’d be embarrassed to see your actions on the front page of the news paper, stop what you are doing and ask yourself why you’re doing it.

Behaving well and having integrity go together pretty nicely, so if you’re not sure whether or not people think of you as being someone with integrity, consider whether or not they’d say you’re well behaved. Sometimes, you just have to start tweaking actual actions, and then the thought processes will follow as you get in the habit. I know that I can say confidently that I am a person of high integrity, but I also know that sometimes my behavior isn’t exactly where I need it to be … because I’m human. Also because I’m pretty loud and outspoken. So, I acknowledge when I’m wrong. I apologize to those who I am worried I may have offended. And, I try very very hard to do better the next time.

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