Is Integrity the Black Rhino of the Business Serengeti?

If you recall when we last left off, we were entertaining the idea of how, despite how we all claim to be consistent, maintaining integrity over a lifetime is a pretty tall order.

Integrity itself is a word that I have filed in my grey matter RAM under A for architecture, as opposed to H for human quality. I wonder if that’s because I have more evidence of it in the linear notion of “Structural Integrity”?

Or could it be because there feels to be an increasing absence of palpable integrity in a world in which one rarely places oneself in the position to express, with the vulnerability of ownership, one’s own failures.

While this is often true with interpersonal relationships, integrity is never challenged more than in the competitive arena of the business community.

In business, we have seen the burgeoning presence of spin doctors, lobbyists and lawyers who have developed the art of deception through omission. They professionally assist “Management” in reframing the situation and the omission typically surrounds a responsibility “Management” wants to avoid the cost of.

The rationale skillfully leveraged by these creative persuaders seems to consistently circle one theme- Entitlement.

They sooth us, saying: “This is your Business/Career/Life… it’s your right to behave as you want. We can redirect you from the responsibility of your actions by leveraging jurisprudence…for a reasonable hourly rate”

To the profit-focused capitalist, this approach is as seductive as a portside peeler bar to a newly docked sailor. Our captains of industry are easily tempted to drift toward this thinking justified by the need and companionship cuz  “anyone else would do the same thing.”

And so, the standard is lowered. But is that the only reason?

When I was apprenticing in the wild world of women’s fashion, I worked in Valencia, Spain immediately before reporting to design class in Italy. While I learned a bunch in Florence, one thing that has given me pause throughout the years that followed, is how I totally lost my ability communicate in Spanish the minute I crossed the border.

For a long time I thought it was because of the complexity of the verbs.

 I now know the reason I couldn’t keep the two languages functional in my head was because of one simple 3 letter word.


Now, if you are aware of some little tingle of anticipation of a smokin’ hot story of drunken dalliances in both of those countries and how they ended abruptly because of an unfortunate choice of words, well you can stop reading right now, or prepare for your tingle of disappointment. You see my daughters skim these posts every so often so I can neither confirm nor deny those occurrences.

However, I will tell you that the need to fit in, to be perceived as less of an outsider in the eyes of the sultry Mediterranean women, in my early twenties, was almost as much of a driving force as my desire to learn to design women’s shoes…

…ok, maybe more.

“So, uh…Dude – apart from the name-dropping sex talk, what could possibly be the point of the Spanish/Italian reference?”

I guess I was observing how sometimes our brains seem to block out one skill to build another, and I wondered if that same thing could equally apply to human qualities?

I mean, the forum of business has become more like a WWE championship where the skill of fearless rationalization has replaced the art of true competition. Everywhere you turn leaders are brashly throwing down for their right to behave like an ass.

I wondered, if by developing talent in the art of spinning, justifying and rationalizing our foibles, we have ended up completely atrophying our capacity for integrity.

We have rationalized integrity to the point of losing our true understanding of it in its purist form.


Again, we have to look at the way the business world often operates behind the slick marketing it carefully crafts to keep us in the checkout line.

Even the most savage are wise enough to not bite the hand that feeds, and so when our business community has blurred the lines of integrity, individuals who live within that community must question the return on the investment of demanding a higher moral standard at the risk of losing the ability to pay the rent.

All too often business owners and leaders handcuff our “trusted associates” (employees) by disguising gag orders as loyalty to the cause.

Those of us who embraced capitalism as a path to independence, have learned that what we as individuals know to be “right” is rarely the easiest or most profitable path.

So, we quietly do the math and realize if we choose the high road and negatively impact profitability, then we may soon be the cutback required to offset the cost incurred, by the team, so we focus the blame elsewhere.

There is a story of a young V.P. in the Ford Motor Company in the thirties, presenting himself to none other than Mr. Henry Ford, resignation letter in hand. He was assuming responsibility for a production error that would cost the company $100,000, in the 1930s that was a whole whack of profit. Mr. Ford took the letter and tore it up saying at the time “I cannot accept your resignation sir; I now have a one hundred-thousand-dollar investment in you!”

Ford understood that witch hunts are far less valuable over time, than the acquired experience of a loyal team member.

But today, the pressure to perform is so characterized in fantasy based media that it seems more appropriate for leadership to turn outwards and “clean house and turn the page”instead of turning inwards and assuming responsibility.

How could this erosion in strength of character, once so valued in leadership, have advanced so rapidly?

That, dear readers is the focus of tomorrow’s post.

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