“What if,” I asked myself this week, “what if one person could fundamentally change an organization by simply demonstrating integrity?”
Can you imagine? An organization built on integrity?
No lying about the product or its benefits, or subterfuge on where a non-profit spends its money.
No cheating on quality or tax returns. No cheating while on the road.
No stealing someone’s idea and claiming it as the company’s own. No stealing from pension funds. No stealing steaks out the back door of the restaurant.
No fudging about how much radioactive water is gushing into the Pacific. No fuzzy rhetoric on the federal budget.
People would be predictable. They’d be honorable. They’d say what they mean. They’d lead from strength rather than fear. They’d make good decisions and they’d succeed.
And if there was a problem, they’d own up to it and deal with it. Because they’d handle it from confidence rather than frantic CYA.
You might call this pie in the sky. But I know different.
See, I have not always been a person of integrity. This is not an easy thing to admit. In my younger years, I often said one thing and did another. I struggled to keep confidences. My talk and my walk were out of sync. I would say yes when I meant no, and no when I meant yes.
I fudged. I was unpredictable. I dodged. I integrated CYAing. I totally CYAed for my bosses.
I lied. I cheated. I stole.
And just writing that makes me wince. And want to stop typing and go have a sugary treat. And/or bourbon.
But what I know about this time of my life is this: I was miserable. I worked in miserable places. And I imagine I sowed the seeds of miserablity everywhere I went.
Fortunately, I had a few hard knocks, grew up and finally figured out that I could simply decide to be the kind of person I wanted to be.
So I did.
Who did I aspire to be? Someone who:
- Was accountable for my decisions
- Explained clearly and without blame when I changed my mind
- Was reliable
- Was consistent
- Told the truth
- Lived the truth
- Honored my values
- Was comfortable in my own skin
More pie in the sky? Let me tell you, at first this took constant, continuing consciousness. It was almost as if I stopped myself every moment and asked, “Is this how I want to be in the world?” If the answer was no, or I felt even the slightest bit icky, I chose the integrity path.
Which sometimes required courage. And difficult conversations. And no small measure of uncomfortableness.
Like when you break any habit.
Just imagine for a minute. What if organizations broke the CYA habit, and shifted to an integrity model? If just one person dropped the miserable fear and stood up to integrity in that non-profit, or that corporation, or that family-owned business, or that church, or that temple, or that government office – can you imagine? She might inspire one other person to start living his integrity. And another. And another. And pretty soon, there would be no more CYA.
There would simply be no need.