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!