The Value of Integrity

Early in the career of a young man, the dream job of traveling the world and learning about a high-tech industry happened. The imagined opportunities to experience different cultures, stay at the finest hotels, eat exquisite cuisine, and get paid to do it became a reality! An added benefit was that the three other men in this field engineer group were all older and experienced and willing to train and guide this young man. Does it get any better than this?

The new trainee accompanied each of these men on at least two trips and soon realized most international travel was not fun for them. Guess who happily volunteered for all the overseas trips? The technical and administrative parts of the job were just a matter of textbook learning, but other “gray” areas arose that employees had to determine for themselves.

One of those gray areas was expenses. Maximum amounts for meal costs were predetermined for each day and did not require receipts. All three men gave the same instructions on what was to be recorded as the daily per diem for meals – overcharge to get some extra cash.

The new guy in the group was uncomfortable with lying about the cost, but wanted to fit in so gave in to the peer pressure. Compromise in one area soon led to a decision to continue down that path or make integrity a priority. When confronted by the manager about the meal expenses, the young man admitted to overcharging on the expense report. Fortunately, the manager was understanding and challenged the young man to be honest and not give in to the outside pressure to conform.

A valuable lesson was learned because that young man kept integrity a priority from that point on. Verification of this story is easy, because that young man was myself. The beauty of being a person of integrity is that it is simple. Just be honest and a person that keeps their word. However, simple does not mean easy.

There is a price to pay for being honest. Some property damage was done in a camping area by the boys in a program I supervised unknown to my staff or the camp ranger. Later after leaving the camp ground, one of the boys confessed. The right thing to do was report the incident even though it was likely the privilege to camp there again would be lost. A very convenient place to camp was gone, but personal and organizational integrity was maintained.

The price of losing a convenient place to camp was minimal. The cost of not being able to look troubled boys in the eye and say, “do the right thing” would have been huge. These contrasts are a matter of core values. Building a reputation of integrity takes years and is solidified when the right thing is done despite paying a price of inconvenience, monetary loss, or embarrassment.

Reality TV has good and bad examples of integrity. Survivor involves lying, cheating, back stabbing, and people selling their soul for a million dollars. The winner is determined by the participants already voted out. Ironically their decision is based on the person that could be trusted… at least a little.

Contrast that with Undercover Boss where owners of companies are disguised as regular employees. The most touching moments occur at the end when the boss is revealed. Owners of companies are deeply touched by people with integrity and who do a fantastic job even when seemingly nobody is watching. The workers are moved because somebody, especially the boss, recognizes their integrity and hard work.

Establishing virtuous core values at an early age is the ideal, but anytime is a great time to work on integrity. A key part of integrity to start with is honesty. Your word is the only thing you can both give and keep. Be faithful and honest in little things and people will trust you with bigger things.

These simple, but not easy core values serve society well and lead to a conclusion. Integrity is not only a priority, but a necessity that cultivates authority and authenticity as well.