What’s Your Integrity Worth?

Last week we spoke about “steering our canoe on the river of life.” There were some excellent comments (have a look if you didn’t already). We talked about avoiding other crazy canoe drivers, obstacles, pulling your canoe out to rest, and even switching rivers. After reading a series of interesting newspaper articles over lunch Friday, I realized that we missed one important personal navigation tool: Integrity.

Here’s how my revelation came about.  I was perusing the newspaper with a tasty cup of coffee and a steaming hot farmer’s omelet.  I turned each page, relishing tidbits of info that my Input strength may or may not put to good use someday.  Then, in the sports section, I noticed a pattern.  There were three articles about poor self-leadership amongst extremely talented athletes.  I was instantly reminded of a workshop I taught years ago focused on this topic: What’s your integrity worth?  What is the value of your ethics, honor, and self-leadership?  What is the personal tipping point, where a remarkable individual is willing to toss their reputation to the wind?  A reputation once lost is not easily regained.

The first story involved a professional pitcher for the New York Yankees, Mr. Michael Pineda, who applied pine tar to his neck before heading to the mound.  The article is paired with a lovely photo of Mr. Pineda and a bewildered teammate.  The angle of the photo is such that even I could see the pine tar on Mr. Pineda’s neck (pine tar is very dark).  Apparently, he would touch it with his pitching hand before throwing the ball.  The pine tar on his fingers gave him more control of the baseball on a cold spring evening.  Unfortunately, it’s not legal to use pine tar, according to the umpires who huddled around in consternation. They promptly tossed Mr. Pineda from the game and suspended him for ten days.  That’s bad enough, right?

However, as one digs deeper into the article, it appears that the real issue was that Mr. Pineda used pine tar IN AN OBVIOUS FASHION.  The fact that the Yankee pitcher put it on his neck, on a game against Boston (they are arch enemies) that was televised on national TV, assuming no one would notice, seems to be a greater crime than using the illegal substance.  The article goes on to say that pitchers use all kinds of chemical tricks to gain that minuscule competitive edge – shaving cream, sunscreen lotion and hair gel – who knew how complicated baseball really was!  The Boston Red Sox manager said that the Yankee pitcher broke the unwritten rule – he was obvious about it.  It wasn’t the what (cheating) that was the problem, it was the how (way too obvious.)  It was “disrespectful” in its blatant-ness.   Oh, I get it!  It’s okay to cheat as long as one is appropriately discreet!  Mr. Pineda was already warned in a previous game on April 10th – if he continued to pitch with “black stuff all over his hands” there would be consequences.  Hmm.  Oh, by the way, he’s really, really sorry, and he made a huge mistake.

I moved on to other parts of the newspaper only  to find that a young college basketball player from the University of Michigan (I live in Michigan) tested positive in a random drug test during the college basketball playoffs last month.  He’d been to a party, and someone apparently forced a marijuana cigarette down his throat; as a result, he faces a one year suspension from college basketball.  What does this player do?  Opt out of college (even though he hasn’t graduated) and join the NBA draft.  God knows that professional basketball doesn’t mind players who use drugs!  It is predicted that he will go in the first round, selected in the top tier of potential players.  Oh, by the way, he’s really, really sorry, and he made a huge mistake.

Then I landed on an article about the poster child for this topic, Lance Armstrong.  Imagine this – he just lost a court battle where he lobbied against paying back the companies who gave him bonuses for winning his multiple Tour de France titles. They have sued him for fraud, seeking a refund on the $12 million dollars he received over three years.  During that time, he lied under oath, insisting he’d never taken performance enhancing drugs. Oh, by the way, he’s really, really sorry, and he made a huge mistake.

Obviously, these talented people have lost their way.  The canoe paddle with “Integrity” painted on it had been tossed aside, perhaps years ago.  The reasons may be numerous – ego, fame, fortune, a sense of entitlement, talent trumping rules, a desire to win, and a lifetime of being protected from consequences (This is where Karma triumphs.  Karma is not a punishment tool, it’s the universal rule of consequences – do good, get good. Do bad, get bad – eventually.)

We will never know why these three talented athletes sold their souls.  And here’s the real problem: I bet they don’t know either.  They lack the self-awareness, the self-understanding, and self-leadership required to make better choices.  They are not reflective learners because they’ve never had to be.  Society doesn’t demand it.

Wouldn’t it be great if Lance Armstrong said, “I’m such a mess, and I’ve proven it over and over again.  I don’t quite understand how it happened, but I have completely lost my way.  I’m going to rediscover the right path by working with poor inner city kids, teaching them how to ride well, and ride clean.  You won’t hear from me again for a long time – maybe never!”  Uh huh.  The day that Lance Armstrong seeks anonymity is the day that I fly to the moon.

Finally, I must admit that it feels good to talk about ethics.  After all, I have a Masters in Leadership and Business Ethics.  One half of my coursework was founded in studying the drivers of integrity – global ethics, cyber ethics, business ethics – because integrity is a decision making tool for leaders.  I took further training to become certified to teach Business Ethics.  I even naively named my company Empowered by Ethics some 9 years ago, thinking that integrity-based leadership would be immensely attractive to business and society.  It wasn’t. Guess how many times I’ve delivered workshops on the topic of ethics?  Two.  On the other hand, I’ve delivered nearly 100 workshops on succeeding with our strengths.  That’s quite a ratio.  Don’t get me wrong – I love strengths – you all know that.  It would be great to throw some ethics training in there from time to time as well.

I live near Detroit, which has unfortunately become one of the most corrupt cities in America.  As I tried to market my business, I was viewed as a pariah, kind of like the IRS.  But, it also doesn’t help that much of society doesn’t really care, so we don’t demand integrity from people in the spotlight – leaders, politicians, actors, athletes – our public role models.  The ethics snowball rolls downhill, and in the end, we rarely demand integrity from anyone at any level at any age. (And they are always really, really sorry, they made a mistake, and they won’t do it again.)

Well, I still have my canoe paddle that has “Integrity” emblazoned upon it.  And guess what?  My paddle’s not for sale.  Not for Fame, Fortune, or Power.  My integrity in action – doing the right thing – gives me satisfaction that money cannot buy.  Without my Integrity paddle, I’ll not last long in the river.  My canoe will sink, smash in to a wall, and even hurt those around me.  All we have to do is read the newspaper for proof of that.

Integrity is not cheap.  It’s really, really expensive.  So is lying and cheating.  Keep your Integrity paddle handy because trust is the currency of life.

Here’s to ethics and rock solid self-leadership that isn’t for sale at any price.  Onward!

11 thoughts on “What’s Your Integrity Worth?

  1. Hi Maureen, you hit absolutely my topic :)
    On the short run, it may be expensive, but on the long run it makes live much easier.
    Personally, as a little example, it is way to expensive for me to remember whom I said what. I rather tell no lies and keep my brain lean :)

    • Hi Thorsten! What a great response, thanks for sharing. You make a great point… short term pain for long term gain – and it is SO darn difficult to keep up with lies and when you do get caught, it’s really humiliating (which is why people will continue to insist they are telling the truth – their ego often can’t take the pain.) So it’s better to take the pain, the difficult spoonful of medicine at the beginning, and “keep your brain lean” (I like that visual! No wonder you are so smart – you don’t have any garbage in your head!) Onward, my friend! Thanks for coming out and conversing with us.

  2. Maureen, this isn’t a topic I think about a lot, I don’t think about breathing either!
    There are people who will sink another’s canoe if it gives them a slight edge, and my canoe has been waterlogged from at least one of those in recent years. The sad part of that is the fact that if those same people were to collaborate, we would all benefit.
    The dishonest route is a short term gain, the lucky ones don’t get caught out until it is too late to matter. The feeling of guilt would destroy me; it is so much easier to remain honest.

    • Hi Hazel – oh my gosh, I love your points! I hadn’t thought about people sinking other people’s canoes – I was on a call this morning where that kind of happened to me. I thought about throwing some water back at them, and then chose not to. Not because I don’t believe in doing the right thing, but because I didn’t believe it would be effective or change anything, and I want to save my energy for things that are productive. You are right – if they collaborated, if we paddled together rather than trying to sink the other, we would be so much better off. And how true is it – that feeling of guilt – it’s really what I think Hell must be like – (perhaps Heaven and Hell are within?) and living with that guilt, with no real way to release it – even if you tell the truth, once you’ve hurt someone, it cannot be undone. To that end, we must also forgive ourselves once in a while, if we have done what we could to make up for what we did (how did we get on this topic!) :-) Thanks so much for your remarks, they are excellent and thought provoking.

  3. Great comment stream. This is such an important topic. I wish integrity and ethics were like breathing for everyone! Think about the complaints we often hear about the company someone works for. How many times have you talked with someone who sadly shook their head and said, “I expected better…” It’s like the disappointment a child feels when they find out a parent has lied to them.

    • Hi Barbara! You did it! You found an excellent way to bring this home on a very personal level – when our parents lied to us. That is an awful feeling. And those bonds, once broken, are never as strong again, even if they are rebuilt. Those bonds can be between people or between employee and company, or manager and employee (and it’s not always the manager who is the problem!)

      Why don’t we have ethics training in school like we have math? Hmm… When I talk to folks about ethics, they often think it’s a private matter, like religion. Of course, it has nothing to do with religion other than some people’s integrity is founded in rules or ideas that are stated in religious texts. It’s a real problem because if we never teach it, we can’t blame folks for not knowing about it or how to use it. Think of the advantage a high school job applicant would have if that kid had on his resume, “Ethics in the Workplace” as a class. Or “Integrity-Based Leadership”. Ah… I dream!

  4. Another great post, Maureen. Integrity seems popular among your blog readers! You are spot on – those lacking integrity are likely also highly lacking in self-awareness and an ability to reflect, to tune in, to listen to their higher self speaking to them. I’ve got my integrity emblazoned paddle tightly gripped in my hand…nice to know others who have theirs handy, too. We can all paddle together. :)

    • Thanks Vicki! I am thinking that we have a new, really big, totally awesome, completely cool canoe called Integrity and everybody who wrote comments gets to get in it! :-) You are right – I am a bit surprised by the fact that this topic has struck such a cord. To be honest with you, I almost didn’t post it. I feared it being “off topic, preachy, annoying, and a turn off.”

      I was wrong. And that makes me happy! :-) By the way, I logged into to reply using my twitter account – wanted to see if that worked and it did! Technology is amazing. Thanks for sharing your two cents – integrity and leadership are two sides of the same coin – neither are easy.

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