Nothing compromises integrity like greed. History is littered with stories of people and organizations that acted without integrity. Bernie Madoff’s enormous Ponzi scheme and the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy are two that come immediately to mind. CEOs overstate earnings to tell boards of directors and shareholders what they want to hear. Auto manufacturers cover up mistakes to avoid expensive recalls.
I'm going to offer you three simple steps that will help you build integrity. But first, it’s nice to share one story of greed that has a feel-good ending. Courtney and I were on our honeymoon with another couple who had also just married. I got called back to Wall Street because a company was interested in buying my firm. I felt terrible when I had to leave early— especially considering my friend was picking up the tab! But it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, so I left my honeymoon about halfway through.
I met with these buyers. They had done their research. They deter- mined that there were five or six guys at my firm who were responsible for 80 percent of our revenue. Instead of buying me out, they poached my staff. They offered these guys each $1 million a year. I didn’t have a con- tract with these employees because they were my guys, friends from the old neighborhood who came to work for me.
There’s an old saying that goes something like, “You don’t truly know a person until you eat a barrel of salt with him.” Well, I thought I knew these guys, and I just assumed they were loyal, but I guess I needed to eat more salt.
Then about two weeks after my guys left, one of them came to visit me. His nickname is “Socks” because when he first started working for me he didn’t have good shoes. Socks handed me a check for $300,000. He said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take that new job, but he felt an obligation to me. He wanted to repay me for the opportunity I gave him and the spot he put me in by leaving. That’s integrity!
Socks had no legal obligation to me. He just wanted to do the right thing. And I’m sure that $300K turned into $3 million in reputation because word got around about what he did. We remain friends to this day.
While there are examples of lack of integrity everywhere from Capitol Hill to your workplace, from professional sports to your kids’ Little League, there are also many, many examples of integrity all around you. You will find people like Socks who live the Spartan Core Virtues. People you can learn from. I interview people of extreme accomplishment for my Spartan Up! podcasts because they are also people of great integrity. Success and integrity are intertwined. I want to learn from these people. And you can, too.
How To Build Integrity — Start By Modeling Others
- Think about the people you most admire. Make a list of these people. They may be people you know personally, family, friends, people at work, or in your community. Also, consider people you don’t personally know: Sports heroes, politicians, entertainers, business people, authors, educators, spiritual leaders, and histor- ical figures. Your list can be as long or as short as you’d like.
- Now next to each name, write down the traits and qualities that you admire in that person. Some might include courage, reliability, compassion, conscience, fearlessness, conviction, responsibility, frugality, fairness, respect, commitment, loyalty, tolerance—the list goes on and on.
- Finally, identify the three to five people whose character traits you would like to have. Write those character traits on an index card and refer to it whenever you have to make a choice that impacts your integrity.