The rules do not change when the pressure mounts! It is easy to say people should have integrity. It is much more difficult in practice to do the right thing. Having integrity means making judgement calls, hard choices, and dealing with conflicting interests and dilemmas.
Imagine you are in the following situations:
You’re the CEO of a car company and find out your engineers have installed software to defeat emissions tests. You have 100,000 cars on the way to market. Do you pull them back?
You’re a professional athlete with a contract with Brooks Running Company. In order to compete in the world championship for Team USA you are required to wear Nike gear. Do you compromise?
Your largest customer misses earning a sizeable rebate by one day and asks you to back date an invoice so they can still get the rebate. The customer buys millions from you each year. Do you do it?
It is not always easy to lead with fearless integrity. Being authentic and doing the right thing when it hurts is exceedingly difficult, especially when the temptation to gain a temporary advantage by bending the rules can be very strong.
Leadership with fearless integrity is about playing the long game and letting the chips fall where they may. My research shows that leaders that make the hard (right) choices are the ones we admire, respect, and hold up as examples. They are the ones that, in the long run, are the most successful and build sustainable legacies.
The ones that make choices without integrity, deceive, or defraud ultimately become the examples of what not to do. The above are real-life examples. Here’s how they turned out:
Volkswagen allowed fear to conquer integrity.
Volkswagen, as you know, has been embroiled in a scandal the last six months because VW engineers installed software to defeat emissions tests conducted by agencies in the US and Europe. This affects several of the company’s brands. The company’s reputation and culture has been severely damaged, billions in shareholder wealth has been destroyed, and CEO Martin Winterkorn was forced to resign. The company also confirmed last week it has reserved €6.7 Billion (US $7.28 Billion) for repairs to the 11 million affected vehicles.
VW’s new CEO Matthias Mueller has not made matters better. He has repeatedly tried to spin the story as a misunderstanding and then later had to back-peddle. As recently as January 11, in an interview with NPR, Mueller said VW did not lie and that it did not “understand the question.” Mueller was back on NPR later in the day to retract the statement saying, “We fully accept the violation…there is no doubt about it.”
Nick Symmonds, a US Olympian and champion runner, is a great example of fearless integrity.
He won the USA 800-meter title on June 28, 2015. He was left off Team USA at the World Championships in Beijing, held August 2015, because of refusing to sign USA Track & Field’s “Athlete Statement of Conditions.” The document required him to wear Nike gear during the world championships. Symmonds integrity would not let him go against his contract with Brooks. His spot was forfeited on August 9 and went to the runner up.
We run into business situations in which we must face fear in order to do the right thing.
It’s common in business for customers to make unreasonable demands. Unfortunately, some will threaten your business in order to get what they want. Over the years I’ve seen many examples of individuals putting personal or company gain ahead of integrity. Whether it’s changing dates on an invoice to get a rebate, placing purchase orders to hit a sales goal with the intent of returning the goods later, or manipulating accounting in order to avoid taxes or defraud investors there will be a price to pay when integrity is not kept.
“Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it.” –Ovid
All of us will have our integrity tested at some point. You may be facing tough choices today with intense pressure to do what is expedient instead of what is “right.” Doing what is expedient is not worth the long-term costs. Living with integrity is playing the long game.
The rules do not change when the pressure mounts! Do the right thing!