The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. – Dwight Eisenhower
Brian Williams has been in the news much lately, though not for the reasons that he would have wished. Williams claimed that during the US invasion of Iraq many years ago, he had been on a US helicopter that was shot down by ground fire. It turns out that was not entirely accurate. While he was on a helicopter in Iraq, the one he was riding in was not hit by ground fire.
As a result, Williams has been suspended for 6 months from his job as anchor for NBC’s Nightly News. The fallout from the scandal has continued as he has had to resign from other positions he held, had speaking engagements canceled, not to mentioned suffered perhaps irreparable damage to his reputation.
Williams is hardly the only famous person to suffer for a lapse of judgement. Almost 15 years ago George O’Leary was hired as head football coach at the the University of Notre Dame, one of the most prestigious jobs in all of college football. Five days later he was forced to resign after it was found he had lied on his resume about an academic degree he really didn’t have.
Pete Rose was famously banned from baseball many years ago when it was discovered he had bet on baseball games. Despite knowing this was considered a cardinal sin of the baseball world, he chose to break the rules and threw away a career, a passion and a spot in the baseball Hall of Fame.
Incredibly, Lance Armstrong won an unprecedented 7 consecutive Tour de France titles. Add to that overcoming cancer and becoming a world famous fund raiser for cancer research, and he became one of the most famous and respected athletes in the world. Yet it all crumbled when it was discovered he had cheated through doping to win those titles.
My point here isn’t to cast stones at Williams or O’Leary or Rose or Armstrong. The point is integrity matters. Seemingly small decisions can change the course of our lives, ruining a lifetime of hard work.
Living a life of integrity
The book of Proverbs has much to say about integrity.
The integrity of the upright will guide them, `But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them. Proverbs 11:3
Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall. Proverbs 28:10
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. Proverbs 10:9
What is the price of your integrity? How valuable is your reputation?
It might be tempting to exaggerate the truth just a little to make ourselves look a little better. To cut a few corners or bend the rules just a little to gain an advantage.
We make little choices that we don’t think have much impact. But in truth when we do that we are selling little bits of our integrity.
In his book, The Millionaire Mind, Thomas Stanley studied a group of deca-millionaires. That is those with a net worth of at least 10 million dollars or more. He studied what characteristics were most common among these people.
You might think that for some one to amass that kind of wealth that a high degree of intelligence or education would be the most common traits. What Stanley found though was the most common characteristic among these deca-millionaires was actually exceptional levels of integrity.
The cost of integrity
For Williams, O’Leary, Rose and Armstrong these mistakes may have literally cost them hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars.
For you, the stakes may not be that high. You may never have the earning potential and endorsement opportunities that they had, but a lack of integrity can still do great harm to your finances.
Think about it. If you were looking to hire you and you found some “exaggerations” on your resume, would you go through with the hire? Or would you wonder what other half truths might there be that you had not yet discovered?
If it is time for promotions and you were the one making the decisions, do you promote the person who has shown themselves trust worthy or the one you have to watch closely because you are never quite sure what they are doing behind your back?
Now I know that there are exceptions. You may know someone that has tried to cheat the system and seemingly got away with it. But I think those who do that are usually found out eventually. Honesty and integrity almost always win in the long run. You can see that in the study Thomas Stanley did. There is a reason that integrity was the number one character trait of those deca-millionaires he studied.
But more important even than financial considerations, what is the value of a good name? What is it worth to be known as someone who can be counted on? Is there a price for your integrity?
We can spend a lifetime building a good name, but sadly we can throw it all away in a few moments with a lapse of integrity.