Until Mr. Hollande, the French President, launched his “moral shock” program last spring, the “Cahuzac reality show” was promising: Mr. Cahuzac, Minister of Budget, exhorting France to pay more taxes to lower the state debt while evading some of his own taxes through a Swiss “secret” account. As recently as 2012, Mr. Cahuzac was seen as a model of dedication, intelligence and determination. Once perceived as a good man, an iconic politician. Today he is viewed as a gambler who lost big time. And now the President pretends he did not know about this bank account. One lie follows another in the vicious circle of confusing integrity and morality.
Mr. Cahuzac demonstrated a lack of integrity in his actions, consider that we also lack integrity in what we do at times. Who hasn’t bent the truth, not kept his or her word, complied with the spirit of the law but not the actual law, pretended to be aligned when we aren’t? What is the difference between Mr. Cahuzac and us? It just might be that he is playing in the big leagues of no-integrity while most of us are playing in the minor leagues, but the impact can be just the same.
Most of us think of integrity as “good or bad”. Using the example of keeping one’s word, i.e. doing what you say you will do and what is expected of you, if people think of it as good or bad, they will do a little calculation with themselves when the time comes to account for not keeping their word: “should I conceal the fact that I did not keep my word and thus avoid looking bad, explain why things turned this way, that it is not my fault, justify it with very clever reasons?” Doing so, we might get away from blame and “look good” but we also diminish our ability to better perform next time.
Think about a bicycle wheel, it has structural integrity when all its spokes are in place with the right tension, and when the tube is at the right pressure. Break enough spokes and it eventually loses integrity to the point where it does not function properly. Consider that having integrity for us as humans could be viewed in a similar way. Each time we do not keep our word, do what is expected of us or follow the rules of our own society or organization, and do not take responsibility for it, we diminish our performance and the performance of our organization.
Restoring one’s integrity is much like putting the spokes of the bicycle wheel together. Account for what is broken, and then go about restoring the pieces. In business this looks like taking responsibility for not keeping your word, finding out what the consequences are and what you can do to limit the impact for your colleagues and the business.
Look in your organization or look for yourself, where do you have integrity? Where do people not keep their word? Tackling the challenge of restoring integrity will improve performance in your organization with breakthrough speed. To achieve that breakthrough, start by stripping blame and guilt from your conversations. You could even reward people who have the courage to account for not keeping their word without blaming others or justifying themselves. Has this made you think about integrity with a new frame of reference? I welcome your feedback.