It seems that with increasing frequency, the value of integrity is taking a back seat to short-term success. Unfortunately, this dangerous practice has long-lasting, negative ripple effects to the workplace—as well as to society as a whole.
For example, in recent weeks the latest Tour de France winner, Floyd Landis, twice tested positive for illegal substances in his body. He claims innocence and intends to fight the findings, but it may be that when it’s all over, Landis loses his title. This alleged scandal has already cost Landis plenty in terms of product endorsements and speaking engagements.
Then there’s the Barry Bonds saga. A cloud has been hanging over Bonds in his pursuit of home run records due to his steroid use. It’s so bad that not much fanfare occurred when he passed Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list a few months back.
In the top levels of business, it seems that the Enron scandal failed to teach three former top execs at Comverse Technology Inc. what not to do. On August 9 the three were charged with falsifying and manipulating data to increase their stock options.
On August 11, Thomas Coughlin, the former number two executive at Wal-Mart Stores, was sentenced to 27 months of home confinement for felony theft and wire fraud.
It is bewildering to consider that these high profile men had so much going for them—only to suffer disgrace due to lack of integrity.
At the management level, if we take credit for ideas generated by co-workers, it’s not long before people stop sharing ideas with us. Or, if we take shortcuts to get ahead, our reputation gets easily tarnished.
For example, photographer Adnan Hajj was recently dropped by Reuter’s news service after he was caught doctoring photographs of Beirut following an Israeli Air Force attack. Reuters was forced to admit the image was falsely distorted and they issued an apology.
But the damage goes beyond Hajj. One blogger wrote, “This has to cast doubt not only on the photographer who did the alterations, but on Reuters' entire review process. If they could let such an obvious fake get through to publication, how many more faked or 'enhanced' photos have not been caught?”
In general, we don’t like honoring, giving credit to, or doing business with people or organizations when they take shortcuts on integrity.
So how can we define integrity’s relationship to long-term success?
Writing in Strategy + Business, organizational consultant Nikos Mourkogiannis outlines four key leadership ideals that inspire companies to the purpose of long-term success. Mourkogiannis calls these ideals “moral purposes.” He writes “moral purpose is where the big money is. Most stories about wealth creation and success are far easier to understand when we recognize the part that moral purpose played.”
Mourkogiannis goes on to write that “When no clear moral purpose is articulated, a company acquires a de facto amoral purpose:
. It becomes the kind of company that professes, ‘We are here only to make money.’ This can be very successful in the short run, but companies without a clear moral purpose cannot endure; they do not survive the changes they will face in their markets or business environments.”
It’s ironic, but when success for the sake of success becomes the focus of a person or an organization, the chances of long-term success are greatly reduced.
Picture the cheering crowds when Floyd Landis crossed the finish line at the Tour de France. Unfortunately, his success will be empty and short-lived if expediency (read lack of integrity) led to that victory.
In an effort to get his work published, Adnan Hajj abandoned his photojournalistic integrity. The result was personal disgrace and a tarnished reputation for the company that did business with him.
Bottom line: We need to hold on to our integrity and operate within our chosen moral purpose. It’s not always the route of flash, glitter, and fame, but adherence to these principles creates our path to long-term success.