Updated: Aug 6, 2021
Integrity has been an important topic for me, since early in my career. I know that my perspectives on Integrity have shifted over the years, in part because self-understanding has grown. That growth is largely the result of working with the Enneagram. I also know that each individual's perspective is different. Our experiences of course, shape those perspectives, along with our backgrounds and our core values. Our Enneagram lens through which we tend to view life can influence those values, as well as our behaviors.
As I consider Integrity, a few thoughts:
"One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised” ___Achebe Chinua
In my mind, the concerns of Integrity, Ethics and personal Values seem so interconnected, that they almost merge. So when I talk here about Integrity, I am also talking about Ethics and Values.
I have had personal, work and professional struggles around issues of Integrity. I have drawn my line in the sand many times around the boundaries of integrity and ethics—lines I refused to cross. Basically, I "bluntly refused to be compromised." I have found it to be so interesting how many of my clients and employers have been willing to ask for work that was outside of ethical boundaries or established standards of practice. I found myself deeply troubled, and sometimes insulted. I marvel at my own stubbornness—which in retrospect looks a bit self-righteous and prideful. When I found myself in that hard place between a work demand and my own scruples, I have often donned my hero cape, stood my ground and have been more than willing to see myself as the arbiter of ethics and morality (and sometimes even, good taste). I have lost jobs over matters of integrity, where I felt that I could not, and would not, sacrifice my own professional reputation or my ignore my personal standards, simply to follow a directive. (Watch for the case studies—upcoming in this blog). So, I passed the truest test, and at a price.
Ah, what life has to teach us. What I now see as that some of those situations were opportunities to be a wise and present teacher, to practice patience, to revisit what I see as "the line", to consider compromise and maybe to simply accept that my expectations of others can just be a bit much. I have begun, now, to see that having expectations of others, might even be foolhardy.
What I am considering is that sometimes when we encounter conflicts of matters of integrity (and the connected matters of ethical behavior), we should try to take the focus away from the other—their motivations, and our harsh judgement of them and their character, and instead look at our own reactions, objectives and standards. Carefully examining the situation, the context, the overall and relative importance of the matter—this would give us more raw data to use as decision-making material. Because the thing called situational ethics might be ruling the day.
I also think there is a timeline associated with Integrity. For example, my organization may not align to my personal Integrity measuring stick today and right now, but perhaps, I have the opportunity to move that needle, through my example, and any influence I might have. We can even grow our agency, our voice and our personal power over time, so that eventually we can shape the definitions of Integrity within a single context or organization. Darcy Winslow worked at Nike and was unhappy with the manufacturing process and its impact on the environment. It took her 15 years, but eventually, she and her teams created the Sustainable Business Strategies division in 1999, launching an internal movement to change the company culture so that sustainability practices are built into the fabric of everything the company does. It was not easy, but she realized that things could get better only if she stayed, fought the good fight, leading from the inside, with diplomacy, patience and influence. Today Sustainable Business Strategies continue to be a key priority for Nike, and their Move to Zero initiative. This story reveals values-in-action, and I love that the integrity of everyone associated with that company was elevated, and it took some time.
While we cannot always shape our environment or influence others, consider this: that discrepancies in our definitions of Integrity and a moral code can sometimes be just another thing we have to grapple with when in relationships with others, especially in the workplace. These mis-alignments can be an opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue. This is in high contrast to simply allowing our high-and-mighty mindset to set our feet a'walking out the door.
This is not excusing bad practice, fraud, or anything that reeks of illegitimate, unethical behavior. We've all seen that the moral compass in our so-called leaders of today seems to be often misplaced, or disregarded. I see that sometimes, in the nonprofit sector, there can be a culture of "well, our mission is good and holy, so whatever we do to achieve it is forgivable." It is almost a matter of Ends justifying the Means. I am not condoning any of this either; the 'whatever' thing might need to be closely scrutinized. There will be times when a mismatch in Integrity or Ethical perspectives becomes anxiety inducing or soul-stealing, sometimes looking for a better match is the only option. We cannot thrive where are not aligned—or at least consciously, thoughtfully, carefully resigned—with matters of Integrity.
Do I regret the times I quickly refused to be compromised? No. I worked with the wisdom I had at the time. I stayed true to myself, the self that existed in those moments. But transformation, growth and change—ah, what a beautiful thing.
It is good and well to refuse to allow our integrity to be compromised, but don't be afraid to look under the hood for a minute when you bump against an issue. Taking time to explore the situation, look at motivations and look at your own style of behavior might yield insights.