To protect your integrity as a leader, don’t focus only on the big, obvious temptations. Watch out for the subtle deceptions.
Think of it this way. Have you ever made a personal commitment to lose weight, or to simply eat healthier, only to come across a steaming, fresh-out-of-the-oven plate of chocolate chip cookies?
You knew in an instant that to take a cookie would break your personal commitment. So what did you do?
You broke a cookie in half, and ate just half a cookie. (Admit it…We’ve all done it.)
This allowed you to convince yourself that you had maintained your personal commitment to eating healthy. “After all,” the reasoning goes, “It’s only half a cookie.”
Matters of leadership integrity work the same way.
We commit that we would never tell a brazen lie. But we might bend the truth a little to avoid looking bad. We’ve just eaten half a cookie.
We commit that we would never steal money from the company. But we might show up to work late or leave early. We’ve just eaten half a cookie.
We commit that we would never talk disrespectfully to someone. But we might criticize them behind their backs. We’ve just eaten half a cookie.
We commit that we would never take credit for someone else’s work. But we might not correct someone if they mistakenly congratulate us for work that wasn’t entirely ours. We’ve just eaten half a cookie.
The point is that the challenge to maintain your integrity is not primarily a matter of avoiding the big obvious missteps. The chink in one’s armor is usually found in a slightly more innocuous step. It’s in the hardly-noticed expense report exaggeration or in the stories we tell that make us look slightly better than we really are.
How do we avoid these missteps? This article is not about “5 Easy Steps to Preserving Your Integrity”. I won’t tell you to find an accountability partner or to maintain an ‘Integrity journal”.
I will simply remind you that your integrity is the most prized possession you own as a leader, and that preserving it is your highest calling.
So do the right thing. Always.
And avoid the cookies.