The Easy Choice for Hard Decisions

Dina Steiner, Founder and Director of Spirit at Work ATX

What is integrity? Being honest, doing what you say you will do, calling out BS when you see/hear it, keeping confidences, holding tight to your values? I suppose everyone has a slightly different definition of integrity, but it’s like the Supreme Court and pornography, we “know it when we see it.” A person with integrity makes the hard decision to do the “right” thing, even when there might be an easier, more expedient, but less “right” option. We’d all like to be seen as people of integrity. So, why then is it so hard, and, as it seems in our current culture, so unpopular?

We certainly live in morally ambiguous times. And, unfortunately, there are sometimes great rewards for cutting corners, covering up inconvenient truths and side dealing. From celebrities who cheat to get their kids into college, or stage phony “attacks” to get publicity; to executives who push dangerous, addictive substances to unsuspecting consumers, or condone paying women or people of color less than white men for the same work; to politicians who accept bribes, or cover up unethical or even illegal behavior of their colleagues, it seems that a lack of integrity is sometimes a requisite for rising to the top.

So why attempt to maintain integrity? Why not just do whatever it takes to get ahead?

  1. Having integrity builds trust. When it is a widely known fact that you do what you say you will do and that you always tell the truth, even when it is hard, people will develop trust in you – coworkers, clients, subordinates and your bosses. Trust leads to confidence, increases influence and solidifies relationships.
  2. It makes decision-making easier. It may sound contradictory that having integrity means making hard decisions and that it also makes decision-making easier, but when you have integrity you know what the correct decision is. You don’t have to spend time second-guessing yourself. Having a set of values to live by makes most of life’s choices seem like less of a choice.
  3. It builds a healthier corporate culture. I often talk about the ethos of a company as its “spirituality.” I choose that word carefully because it implies that an ethos is more than just free coffee and bring-your-dog-to-work day. A workplace spirituality implies that each company has a quality that rises above that which can be quantified. A spirituality influences everyone’s decisions and work. And a healthy spirituality begins at the top. When employees know that their bosses can be trusted, they are more likely to bring their A-game. When they see integrity modeled in the C-suite, they can feel more freedom to act with integrity as well.

Some decisions in life have to be geared toward the long-term, and acting with integrity is one of those choices. The business world is littered with casualties from companies that cut corners and put profit over people in the race to be the first, or the biggest, or have the greatest buzz online. Some of the implosions caused by lack of integrity have been very public and spectacular (Enron, Theranos), but countless others have been smaller and more localized. Eventually, a lack of integrity catches up with almost everyone. We should never lose sight of the long-term by relying on short-term expediency.

As Mark Twain is credited as saying, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” And, I will add, “you will sleep better at night.”