This week the mysterious “Deep Throat” informant that brought down a sitting US President 30-plus years ago came forward with his identity. The resulting fallout is just beginning as pundits and key players are angling on how to cash in.
But the Watergate scandal wasn’t just about politics. To me, the main take away was how recklessly people compromise integrity. We saw that it happens at all levels—even within a leader of the free world.
Unfortunately, people turn their face away from integrity on a regular basis. At the time of Watergate, I heard over and over how “everyone does it, it’s just that Nixon got caught.” How sad that such a mindset existed then, and even sadder that it still exists today. Have we learned nothing?
Comparably, in the business world, we have the Enron fiasco of several years back. As reported in Forbes, “several senior Enron employees ‘consistently and constantly’ questioned the corporation's accounting methods to senior Enron officials.”
The accounting firm Arthur Anderson was slipping and sliding paperwork behind the scenes, hiding losses and trying to keep Enron looking good to investors. In the mean time, solid footing gave way and Enron imploded, causing a shock wave that will be felt for decades.
At the outset, such lack of integrity caused the loss of 28,000 jobs at Arthur Anderson and 5,000+ jobs at Enron. That’s a lot of turmoil in innocent people’s lives because of lack of integrity in a select few.
Yet the ripple effect went beyond the loss of jobs at these large firms. It decimated lives in small towns, too. For example, in Big Piney, Wyoming, Enron was a key company. Most folks in Big Piney’s population of 500 are oil field workers who put in an honest day’s work and enjoy a life free from the complexities and crime of big-city life.
When Enron collapsed, it wasn’t the fat cat executives who lost their retirement plans—they had their investments diversified. It was the hard-working folks in Big Piney and towns like it around the globe who lost out. These are people who invested their lifetime into what appeared to be a solid company, but suddenly found themselves with nothing but a looming mortgage and the pain of losing every retirement dream they worked for.
All because of a lack of integrity in a select few.
Ironically, in another piece of hot news this week, the U.S. Supreme Court has thrown out the conviction of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm for destroying Enron-related documents.
I can only shake my head at the continued lack of integrity. (I’m having a tough time believing the higher-ups at Arthur Anderson didn’t know what they were doing when they ordered the shredding of tons of Enron documentation.)
Perhaps the biggest reason people break their integrity is trying to achieve something they want in the face of what normal channels allow. In essence, it’s disregard for established norms, mores, ethics, and laws in pursuit of fulfillment.
Working to achieve an agenda is fine. Breaking the rules is not. Workplace fulfillment need not come at the expense of others. Therefore, I offer the following salient points to ponder (which were taught me by a wise, learned man). They have helped me strengthen and maintain my own integrity, and they may do the same for you:
1. Be Honest. People don’t like doing business with those they don’t trust.
2. Work Hard. It’s amazing how fulfilled people can be when they simply do an honest day’s work.
3. Consider that Every Action has Consequences. In large part, integrity is defined by what you do when no one is looking.
4. Avoid the Appearance of Wrong. Good reputations can be marred by innocent actions that simply appear questionable.
5. Be Yourself. Trying to be someone other than who you are often leads to trouble. As Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” In other words, know yourself and be yourself.
If you check the dictionary, you’ll find that the antonym for “integrity” is “dishonor.” The choice, as always, is up to each of us.