How solid is your personal integrity? Where is your “line in the sand” on “what is right or wrong” for your life and work? What’s “your price”?
Doing the right thing (Audio)
Have you ever been caught between a rock and a hard place in your career, where your integrity was challenged? How did you respond? What’s your track record? Any disappointments in your own standards or are you “squeaky clean”? Tough question?
What is personal integrity to you?
Wikipedia defines Integrity as a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.
I’m sure that if you saw the list of values of most people that you interact with, honesty and integrity would feature in their top 10 values, agree? I have certainly found that to be true of probably every client of mine that has done a values excercise, as outlined in the blog Values.
And I’m pretty sure that I would have most of you nodding when I posed the above questions in the introduction, right? I guess that’s one of the things with values, namely that there will be times when we / they are challenged.
Values in action
A few weeks ago I wrote about my friend’s wife being “marched to the door” in Secure job?, and have subsequently been appalled (but not surprised) at how that story played out. After a couple weeks of “letting her stew”, she was “invited to meet with HR” where she was presented with a bunch of trumped up charges of what she was supposed to have perpetrated. (She had been personally and legally coached to “just listen” and not respond). The absolute audacity and blatant global corporate organisational arrogance of the attitude displayed floored me. They actually acknowledged that “they did everything wrong” and that if she chose to challenge their separation in court, that she would probably win, but that they would make it long and ugly for her, and was that what she really wanted?
Now many of you reading this will be able to relate at some level, where you may have seen or experienced something similar in your careers; perhaps not to that extent, or maybe just as severe or maybe even worse?
Organization or individual manager?
Upon reflection, would you agree with me that this kind of unsavoury behaviour wouldn’t in any way be written in any policy or officially or publicly condoned by the organisation? Their corporate citizenship and their public image and marketing spin would portray them as “squeaky clean”. But it is performed by individuals in the name of the organisation, isn’t it?
The irony is, that these managers (I struggle to call them leaders) probably wouldn’t appreciate such behaviour towards them themselves, and they probably wouldn’t agree that to be part of their value system. But they carried it out nonetheless. Why? Probably because someone “up the line” had exerted pressure upon them and expected the outcome, leaving it to them how they actually did it. A tough “rock and a hard place” to find yourself in. And yet, under massive pressure to do whatever it takes to satisfy that / those boss(es) demands.
In my experience there will always be times where our values will be challenged; probably a universal truth, right? This is where our resolve is tested; where the saying “every person has their price” is played out. This is where “the rubber meets the road” and we get to see whether this value is:
- one that we aspire to
- or one that we call one of our values because others “expect” us to have such a value
- or whether it is a fair dinkum value that we will hold true to.
In Values I also wrote about living in congruence with our values, the absence of which can lead to serious illness.
I can remember a situation in my own corporate career where I found myself in such a situation whereby changes in management (and therewith to the approach to certain commitments that had been made) necessitated me taking a position in a vendor negotiation that went completely contrary to what I knew was morally right and to what my own personal values suggested. I made a point of taking a colleague into that negotiation with me and am not proud at all about the result we “had to” negotiate.
From my earliest training, I was taught that vendors form a very important part of the business value chain and supply chain, and that a partnership approach often goes a long way towards both parties winning and growing together. That formed part of my belief system (of course I am not that naïve to believe that always works) and those of you that I have worked with or have experienced my negotiation skills grooming and training will know that this “fairness” attitude drives my style and I am proud of my results track record.
Back to the example however, you can imagine how much “personal pain” this situation caused me, and it wasn’t long after this, that I left that organisation. Consequences.
There comes a time where we simply have to “draw a line in the sand” and make a judgement call about “what is right or wrong” for us in our life and our life’s work, and what we are prepared to put up with or stand up for.
Now I’m not suggesting we should act with impetuosity and ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater”, but I am saying that we could use of intuition and our integrity-meter to help us assess what position we take to a certain situation, or series of situations, and make a call as to what is acceptable and what is not.
To thine own self be true
Shakespeare wrote this so long ago. I was just reunited almost 45 years later with a school friend via the Internet, and really look forward to meeting him again personally when we are in Germany in January. He mentioned that he had studied languages after school and then started teaching. He said he lasted 2 weeks and realized there was no way he was going to do this for the rest of his life. He subsequently became a cameraman and has some fascinating stories of covering events all over the world.
What a change in direction. But you will probably relate well to what I’m about to say next. How many of us, after having invested so much time and energy (and probably money) into an education or professional qualification would have the guts to do what he did? How many of us know people that are still in “that wrong profession” today after a lifetime of regret or simply “settling for second best”?
I think this is a great personal example of where strength of character and listening to your intuition and standing up for what you believe in worked out magnificently for him.
Leadership and personal integrity
But I would like to go back to the previous unsavoury examples. This is particularly important if you are in a leadership position. What is “your line in the sand”? What is “your price” by which you and your behaviour can be influenced to do the wrong thing – to be “bought”?
Where does the breaking point at which you will no longer “do the right thing” have to be for you to cross that threshold? Rhetorical questions indeed, but deeply personal ones that go to the core of each of our own personal integrity.
Easy to judge others. Not so easy when we find ourself in such a situation, right? Righteous indignation when it occurs to us as individuals, but much harder to deal with when we are put in a position to have to act it out “in the name of…”
And so I’d like to ask you – if you are in a leadership position – to reflect on where you stand in this conversation? If you haven’t been confronted with such situations (yet), it may be a matter of time before you may be. You may never be. But how will you react if and when you are?
Will you have the courage of your convictions to stick to your values? We are the only ones that have to live with the person we see in the mirror.
Tough call, I know. But one worth considering in preparation in case it does come your way someday. And if you are feeling unsure, now or when a situation arises, why not engage the services of a coach to help you work through the options with so many more perspectives than you might come to yourself?
What if you could?