Do You Have Low Integrity?

fuel gaugeMost of my writing is about trust and high integrity, but this article is about low integrity. We know it exists because there are numerous examples in our daily life that point to individuals doing something that they espouse is for the greater good, but is really to advance their own purposes.

I have been told to stay away from sex, religion, and politics in public writing, so I will not reveal any political bias here; however, it is easy to detect some pockets of low integrity in the government. What constitutes low integrity versus gamesmanship on any particular day depends on the issue at hand and which side of an issue a particular person sits.

In reality, we exist in a sea of low integrity, and this article is intended to make us more aware of the difficulty sorting through what is a problem with integrity and what was well intended but flawed behavior.

When we see flagrant violations of integrity, it is not hard to come to agreement that the person was duping the public. There are hundreds of examples of this from Bernie Madoff to John Edwards. In the extreme, some people just do what benefits them regardless of who it hurts.

The other extreme is also easy to spot. In any community you can find people who give amazing amounts of time and money to support causes while expecting nothing in return.

The extremes are easy to identify, but the majority of actions taken by people in routine business or personal decisions are somewhere between those extremes. At some point you cross the moral like between high integrity and low integrity.

It is not my desire to judge anyone in this article. I think each person has to decide on a case by case basis where the moral line exists. That decision tells a lot about the ethical fiber of the person, and yet it is not so simple to decide which activities are OK and which ones have crossed the line. For some people, anything short of saintly behavior is wrong while others will draw the line between good and bad just short of something being illegal.

At its core, integrity is about honesty. If we purport to be taking an action to advance a noble cause yet really are mostly trying to increase our own wealth, then we are guilty of low integrity?

To understand if an action is good or bad, we really need to dig deep into our psyche to understand our true motivations. For example, maybe we really did take that action to help reduce homelessness, and the improvement in our status was simply a by-product we obtained by networking with many new people.

The trigger for this article came from a discussion about the magnitude of low integrity in the world and that we only observe a tiny fraction of the deceit that goes on. Most of it goes undetected, because we are simply unaware that the person had an ulterior motive.

An even deeper question is how would the person himself come to grips with his own true intentions. In other words, where is the line of demarcation between doing something for others and helping one’s self?

It is fascinating to have the debate with myself trying to figure out if I have high integrity. Let’s examine a specific example for clarity.

I provide an excellent leadership assessment on my website free of charge. It really is totally free because I do not even ask people to register with their e-mail address when they take it, so I am not trolling for addresses. Furthermore, I offer a free consultation to suggest things that might be helpful to the person based on his or her specific profile, but only if that person contacts me, and even then I am giving but not selling. In other words, most of the experts would call me crazy for giving something away with absolutely no strings attached.

I chose to set it up totally free because of three statements in my own strategic framework. 1) I have a Value for my business that states “Give more than you receive,” 2) a second Value states “Giving away content is a good thing to do,” and 3) one of my corporate behaviors is “Go the extra mile to help others.”

That all sounds altruistic, but do I have some kind of ulterior motive in the back of my mind? Do I want to further the cause of my business? Of course I do! That is not a bad thing to do. But then am I giving away content not just to help other people but with some hope that the universe will find ways to return the favor?

You can go slowly insane trying to decipher motives, and nearly all of the time the true motivations are hidden from view. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing good just for the sake of doing good. Perhaps some of us actually do that. I will never know. I do a lot of volunteer work myself, but I could and should do more.

The “pay it forward” mindset is an approach to living that is highly appealing. It is fun to help other people, even when you know there will be no direct payback. In fact, there is a payback, and it happens instantly. It is called satisfaction or self esteem. So the person who says, “I volunteer to help out this cause because in the end it makes me feel good,” that person is not guilty of low integrity.

We need to realize that there is always a return for every good deed. It does not spell incorrect behavior to do good things simply for the joy it brings, but when we do something that looks good on the surface, but in reality we are raking in the cash from some unseen source, then we are guilty of low integrity.

The line between high integrity and low integrity must be drawn by each individual based on his or her level of morality. My hope is that more people will examine their true intentions rather than rationalize questionable behaviors.

8 Responses to Do You Have Low Integrity?

  1. Hello, Bob!

    This is a really interesting and philosophical post. Your basic question seems to be about motive. Why give away something–time, money, energy, products–that we also sell? Is giving some now in hopes of selling some later the reason we give now?

    I think maybe. But I do think both things can happen simultaneously. By giving away your leadership assessment, you are accomplishing two things at once: 1. Providing value for free, with no expectation of future sales. 2. Providing an example of your value so that your visitor can decide if they want to buy from you in the future.

    I do respectfully disagree that asking for an email address in exchange for a product like your leadership assessment is trolling. Providing a product for an email is an exchange just like paying for a book is. Based on your website and your blog, your visitor can assess the value proposition, and decide that your product is worth giving you their email. To me, its a completely transparent transaction.

    So, overall, I don’t think their is a big dichotomy here between giving and selling. We can do both, sometimes simultaneously. Our belief in the value of the product is what seems most important to me, and whether we give that product away or sell it for a price (like an email address), if we truly believe we are providing value, we are showing high integrity.

    Thanks for an interesting philosophical post!

    • trustambassador says:

      Right, thanks Gordon. I appreciate your thoughtful response. Sometimes I tend to overanalyze things. Like I almost did not post the story about my leadership assessment because some people might interpret it as a clever way to draw attention to it. It becomes a huge conundrum, but my motives with the assessment really are to help people at no cost, so I decided to go ahead with it.

      One of the reasons I wrote the piece was that I have seen some things that I really question from some other people (one recently). I have great respect for these people in general, and yet they do some things that I absolutely would not do. In one case I even brought it up to the individual. “I would not do that – I think it is a conflict of interest.” The answer was, “I do not see anything wrong with it at all.”

      Like I said in the article, I think it comes down to how each individual defines things.

  2. Ted Kidd says:

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you for all the work you do. I enjoy it very much.

    Of course understanding issues of integrity is a path not a destination, so my opinion may change over time. But I don’t think integrity is about whether or how you get paid.

    I think integrity is about whether you have disclosed or hidden how that compensation occurs. This directly connects to if you have been clear about where you have real or imagined conflict of interest. As consultant, putting the client’s interest first or at least adjacent to yours is integrity, and showing where your interest may deviate from theirs.

    “Look, I’ll give you this PDF for your email, which I use for my personal interests and do not sell. Furthermore, if I email you and you want to unsubscribe, that will always be an option.”

    This is stating how you get paid if you require my email, and provides clarity of my risk for sharing same.

    I think lack of integrity occurs when you hold yourself as a consultant or expert and have potential benefit that the client is not aware of.

    “Look, you need 6 of these. I get a bonus if I sell 10. So I’m going to encourage you to buy 10.” Disclose that, you are fine. If you try to sell 10 without that disclosure, that’s low integrity.

  3. Bob Jakaitis Aka JAKE AT THE LAKE says:

    Hello Bob,

    I wonder what you think of a person
    who misrepresents His academic credentials ( used Dr. In front of his name but is not a phd) on A financial application?

    There is much more to the story but
    That is the “fly in the soup”.

    Thank you for the article …

    • trustambassador says:

      Maybe his parents named him Dr.. Seriously, a person who would do that would be pretty low on the totem pole for integrity. There are probably worse sins, if we started to look around, but falsifying an academic record on a job application is really DUMB.

      • Bob Jakaitis Aka JAKE AT THE LAKE says:

        Well … I have heard the term “minor sin” but this tells me that our culture
        Has lowered the bar….

        This sin is on a $8 million grant proposal to a federal agency.
        By a major state university.

        After 1 year of trying to get gov
        Officials to address the outrageous
        Fraud corruption and abuse ….

        An internal auditor is investigating
        The “allegations” which are facts.

        I await the response for all americans.

  4. Bob Jakaitis Aka JAKE AT THE LAKE says:

    This cnn report speaks to the UNC system
    deception of trust and integrity.

    Keep your eye on this story. It is the
    tip of the iceberg that is cracking.

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/17/us/ncaa-athletes-unc-investigation/index.html?c=us

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