The Road To Integrity: Why Integrity Is A Secret Weapon

What if I told you that you could get a permanent advantage over all of your competition just by doing what you should do anyway?

What if I told you that by doing the right thing, you’d get more done faster, and have a better life and business.

Here’s another question:

If you were 100% sure that the salesperson you were working with was 100% honest with you, would that make you more likely to work with them?

Yes. We all crave to work with people with integrity.

It’s the driving force behind self-made billionaire Ray Dalio’s fortune at Bridgewater Capital.

And I’m betting big on integrity at my new company ICYD. I’m talking publicly about integrity (and some lapses I’ve had in my OWN integrity) and putting a target on my back. On purpose. Because I believe in the power of integrity. By developing it – and climbing the mountain – everything happens faster.  I’m raising expectations so that if I’m ever out of integrity, people will know.

Because we don’t have to worry about someone coming through and delivering on their promise. We don’t have to worry about sticking to our own plans.

See, a lot of people who are bad at sales believe that salesmen lack integrity. The best ones I know have more of it than anyone I know. They walk-the-talk. Humans are hard-wired to detect doubt. And when someone with integrity believes that their service is the right one, that conviction sends a strong signal.

Integrity is a minimum condition for doing business and living in a healthy society.

Without it, nothing works at all.

When it is threatened, we all lose.

A World Without Integrity

Let’s imagine a world without integrity. This gets easier to picture every day.

Simple things we take for granted- like that the stuff in the bucket of paint is actually paint- become more questionable.

That makes everything more expensive and time-consuming. You’d have to check for yourself that the stuff in the bucket was paint.

If a doctor promised to see you, he might. Or he might not. And if he didn’t see you, he wouldn’t owe you even an apology.

This all puts stress and strain in your life.  Caveat Emptor means more work for everyone, always.

Without integrity, there’s no trust. Without trust, routine things take so much longer than they would because each side of the transaction has to bear all of the risks of fraud. Integrity begets trust, and that trust lubricates our economy and makes everything work.

Our business scandals – from Enron to Volkswagen are reminders that we desire a world with integrity.

What Is Integrity Anyway?

MC Jensen of Harvard Business School defines integrity as…

”the state of being whole and undivided, especially with respect to your word.”

The metaphor he chooses is in his great paper is a “mountain with no top.” Healthy people and organizations always strive for more integrity, and the journey to integrity is never-ending.

There are some pillars that makeup integrity:

  1. Your Word:  what you ACTUALLY said. When you make a commitment, it should be kept. If you state a fact, it should be a true statement.
  2. The Unspoken Promises that go along with that word. For example, if you promise to “paint someone’s house,” you’re saying that you’ll try hard. That it won’t wind up looking like a Jackson Pollock piece.
  3. That You’ll Fix Your Mistakes: You can’t make your screw up someone else’s issue.
  4. Your Congruence:  You’ll be who you say you are. When you say that you’re a “chill person” and have temper tantrums at the drop of a hat…you’re not in integrity. If you’re a fitness trainer, and you’re 40 pounds overweight, then you’re not in integrity with your profession. You should invite scrutiny when you have a claim.
  5. That You’re Precise and Specific:  using things like “ASAP” and other phrases which don’t have meaning rob us of integrity because they have different meanings to different people.

As salespeople, we have a double burden! We have to sell product and honor both the people we’re working with as well as the company we work for.  Integrity is at a premium in this world.

What Integrity Is Not

Let’s consider for a moment what integrity is not.

Integrity isn’t ethics. Ethics are the values that you live by. Good, bad or indifferent.

Integrity is being consistent with whatever those values are.

A business mentor told me that someone can say they are going to murder you –and be in integrity with that commitment. Integrity is presenting yourself as you are and being congruent with that. There are many decisions that people can make that are outside of current ethical standards but in integrity.

Layers of Integrity

If integrity is an uphill climb (and it is), then there is a bottom and a place to start. Integrity first starts with yourself. Do you keep your promises to yourself? When you set an alarm, do you wake up when you intended to when you set it? Do you do the things you promised yourself, represent yourself as you truly are?

From that foundation, it extends to your word. Are you keeping promises you make to other people?

From there, the journey continues to our your stated identity: Are we representing ourselves and your work honestly? Do you do great work even when nobody is looking? Do you finish the job and complete the details that you say you will? Do you live as you say you live – “walk your talk”? Do your stories contain facts or exaggerations?

The next place integrity applies is to your close family and allies. They will (and should) judge you more harshly than others. It’s why they say “a prophet has no honor in his own kingdom.”

Do you represent yourself to your allies congruently? Are you reliable to complete the work you promised? Are you loyal to them when they are not around? Integrity is a building block of love itself. In a family, when you say you love someone, it follows you must act congruently in private and public.

After your family (and we want to extend our families), comes your team or tribe. These are the people who are on your side. Is your word good to the closest people in your life? Are you letting them down or keeping your promises? Are you known to be reliable and impeccable with your word?

Finally, integrity extends to the world. Including people who aren’t on our side. Is your word good – even when there’s nothing apparent to gain from it being good? Do you deal with others in an honest, open and transparent way?

Why We Care So Much About Breaches Of Integrity

When we saw Louis CK and Al Franken (and others, so many others) get caught abusing women, they weren’t in integrity with their own creed. Both were representing themselves as allies of women. This meant that their fallout was deservedly greater than it was when Donald Trump (who made no promises) was also credibly accused of having done worse things.

The “brand promise” of both of those comics was that of being an advocate for women. When they were out of alignment, then we’ve lost trust. This didn’t happen with Donald Trump because he said he “never claimed to be a saint.”

But – here’s reality: We can never be in absolute congruence all the time. We will all have lapses in our integrity of varying severity. Maybe we’ll forget to hit “snooze” or we’ll paper over some skeletons from the past. What’s important is that we are traveling upwords in the direction of more integrity. That we’re fighting the good fight. That’s called honoring our word

Case Study: Small Oversights Can Wreck Relationships

A long time ago, when I started I Close Your Deals, one of my early clients had a promising (yet expensive) marketing product. I’d even used their product and gotten great results from it. It wasn’t cheap. There came an opportunity to sell it. I jumped at it. We struck a deal and with that deal, I started working in an early version of what we’re doing here.

Before I’d had a formal relationship I made a referral. After that, I was promised a referral fee. I didn’t ask for this promise.

“Hey, thanks for referring to us. They put a deposit down on the program. If they ever join in full, I’ll pay you $500 and it’s tagged in the system so you don’t have to do anything about it- it’ll happen automatically.

Months after this referral, we signed them as a client and I started their training. A few weeks down the road I learned that my referral had completed their payment months ago and I never got wind of it. It wasn’t tagged to me as promised.

Of course, I mentioned this to them. I was shocked when they didn’t apologize. When they paid, they were oddly testy about it. There was no “real” apology, just a “oh, yeah, that’s right. I guess we can pay that, sheesh.”

This was a promise I hadn’t required. It was failed opportunity to build trust. They made a promise to me and I expected it to be kept, and when they didn’t, it made me lose belief in them.

Meanwhile, on some of the sales I’d made, they initially miscalculated my commissions. They were other than what had been promised. They always eventually went to what we agreed- but again with no reassurance that this was a one-time lapse. I had to spend energy “policing” our relationship. The combination of these mistakes put everything else under a magnifying glass and the erosion of trust made it hard for me to sell to clients.

There was probably no intent to deceive. Everything that happened was just an oversight. Sloppiness. Still, these little things grated on me and distracted me.

I wondered: “Man, if they’re not keeping their word to ME, how will they be keeping MY WORD to the people I’m helping join their program?” The delivery doubt always hurts salespeople because we ask that they keep their word.

This was an expensive program that was a pretty intense investment for most of its members. I had to personally get “in the mud” and use emotion to close because this was, in many cases, the “last dollar they had.” The results were worth it, but.

What’s shocking to me is that every salesperson I’ve talked to has been with an organization that ‘screws them out’ of commissions. That’s absurd to me.

These lapses (and the lack of recovery) eroded my conviction to the point where I couldn’t close clients. I didn’t truly believe anymore. Humans are wired to hear doubt. I had reason to doubt the integrity of the people I was working with.

Despite having had a successful experience with their program, I stopped trusting the leadership to do the right thing. That meant that I couldn’t dig deep and credibly make the big promises required for success. My experience had been different.

They could have recovered from this by honoring their word. They chose an average path and that meant that our relationship wasn’t a fit.

The Types Of Breaches In Integrity:

“If you’re up to anything important in life, you will not always be able to keep your word, and that’s alright, but if you are a person of integrity, you will always honor your word. “

-Michael Jensen

We will all be in breach of integrity – to varying degrees – along our journey. Our response to “being caught” tells us a lot about how important integrity is. After all, nearly everyone wants to “seem honest.” Our leaders wring their hands over this. We see them argue over things as petty as the “definition of the word is.”

The difference between being “defensible” and being “honest,” is, then, our reaction to the inevitable times when we overcommit, fall short, or even deceive. To hold integrity as a standard for its own sake is the point, and to welcome the opportunity to be brought back to integrity.

Here are the types of breaches in integrity:

  1. Oversights: We fail to follow up on our word; we accidentally forget. This was something we could have done but had a lapse (often in memory).
  2. Overcommitments: we make a promise that we can’t (or don’t) keep because we don’t have the time, and the priorities aren’t the same for us as it is for the person we let down. Given the time and resources available, we couldn’t have kept our promises.
  3. Operational Dysfunction: We don’t have the systems in place to support our word. Or we make a promise that periodically means that we must break our word (an example is when an airline overbooks its passengers).
  4. Oversimplifications and “White Lies”: Lies for either expedience (I’m nearly done with this project that I have yet to begin), or lies to spare someone’s feelings (like telling your child that you forgot to send a birthday invitation to a friend who didn’t show up). Or lies to “stall for time” (In design work it’s most commonly something like I’m investing the time to make this really great before I show you our progress).
  5. Not Correcting False Information: Often people have misunderstood a situation and that assumption benefits us, so we don’t correct their misunderstanding. If we paid someone with a $20 and they gave us change for a $100.00 bill.
  6. Omissions: We don’t tell someone the entire truth about a situation. We omit (deliberately or otherwise) material facts to paint a different reality than exists. This might be an effort to persuade them, or it might be the attempt to make people believe that something else is true.
  7. Overstatements: We promise something that’s not realistic for them. An example may be a weight loss advertisement or an implication that a guarantee exists when the fine print says otherwise. While we may be ‘technically’ honest, we are not behaving in a way that makes the world a better place.
  8. Cover-Ups: The coverup is, in most cases, worse than the crime. And so if someone is dishonest or having issues with performance, they often cover the mistake or deficiency up.
  9. Outright Deception Finally, we have outright deception. This comes in two flavors: incidental (I lied on the spot), and premeditated (I planned to lie before I began to speak with you). Both are very bad and hard to come back from.

These things also happen both personally and professionally. And they are

How To Recover From Breaches of Integrity

We’re all going to have a breach of our integrity from time to time.

What’s important is how we recover

Admit it.

The first thing to do when we’re in breach is to admit that we were wrong. We’re not blaming the other person.

“Hey, I’m really sorry I let you down and didn’t keep my promise to drop off the kids.”

“Hey, I was wrong when I said that I had 15 years of experience.”

What we’re not doing is making this someone else’s problem, minimizing it, or trying to make excuses.

Hold Ourselves To Voluntary, Higher Standards For Both Having and, Appearing To Have Integrity

When someone (or an organization) has a lapse in integrity, they have to choose to embrace -not just accept-the increased scrutiny that is required to restore trust. This can’t be a grudging move, it must be truly embraced. If we have an attitude of “get off my back already, that was a long time ago,”

Publicly Fix the root causes.

Often, a lack of integrity in business comes from improper systems (an airline or hotel that accepts overbooking), or having an “ends justifies the means” mentality. To recover integrity you have to fix the root causes. An airline may do it by making people understand that they know that sometimes they’ll be overbooked, and when they do they make it right.

Sometimes in personal situations, this might be a difficult thing to identify. We don’t know why we told a lie, or we did something a little off. There may not be obvious fits, but acknowledging that you were absolutely and unacceptably out of integrity is a good first start.

Make The Lapse In Integrity YOUR problem (Eat Your Mistakes).

When there’s a breach in integrity, you make the lapse your problem, not theirs. Solve it or attempt to, fully. If a customer acted on bad information and accepted a deal that you quoted, eat the difference. If you’re late on a promised deliverable, offer a generous refund.

Understand That The Victim Controls The Timetable

Restoring trust takes time, and the act of apology doesn’t entitle you to someone’s forgiveness. If you have a severe breach of integrity, it may (rightly) take years to be trusted again. Don’t let this be your problem. Don’t have an attitude of “sheesh, what do you want me to do.” Understand that you were the one who was wrong.

Sometimes breaches in integrity can permanently cost you a good relationship with a good person. They may have to move on without you based on your actions. That is a natural consequence- and true possibility.It’s normal.

Case Study II: A Lack Of Integrity is the Same Thing as Cancer

At my last company, we had a massive lapse in integrity. “We” means me. 

One month, we sold a lot more work than we could deliver. I knew it. But, I figured it would all work out because some clients somewhere would delay and that would get us off the hook. Kind of like an airline does. Except we weren’t just needing to get a little lucky, we were needing to get VERY lucky.

Except that we didn’t. We oversold our capacity and every client needed their work. Instead of owning up, we tried to get work out the door and “self-justified” bad work. This sent us into a tailspin that we never fully recovered from.

We had to hire more staff to get work out the door. When you hire fast, you hire people who are bad choices. They couldn’t do the work at “our level.” So we sold work that we knew wasn’ great. This fractured relationships both internally and externally. The refunds I had to pay (and wages with them) beat me up. The mistake was recoverable, had I not tried to defend it and been honest about it.

But by hiding it, it made me worse off than I would have been had I never sold all of that work.

Instead, we should have identified it immediately, and given our clients options. “Hey, we are down a designer, and won’t be able to do good work to this date. We’d be happy to refund your money if that’s what you want.” That would have been cheaper, and given the hand we had much more honorable.

Yet ego kept us trying to make it work because we believed that we were at an inflection point. That we were at the place in our business where all the checkers were lined up and one massive double jump would save everything. That we could have used the amount of sales to level up our company and grow to the “next level”.

All of this – the hubris, the ego – and the issues which hurt my company – was because of a lack of integrity. We thought selling more was good. But when you sell more than you can deliver (without a plan to make it up) you’re putting yourself in a terrible position.

A Warning: Perception of Dishonesty Creates The Same Difficulties as Dishonesty Does.

“Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

– 1 Thessalonians 5:22

For integrity to benefit us, it requires at least two components:

  1. For individuals to act with integrity (within our control).
  2. For others to believe that we are honest (in your influence, yet outside of your control).

For integrity to benefit organizations all participants must believe that things will be fair. That others will work with integrity, too. That’s why institutional lapses are so destructive. They threaten the foundations of our society.

If our justice system punishes one race more stridently than another, then what incentives does the punished race have to “play fair.” How much does that hurt us? When we say that we hold the truth that all men are created equal to be self-evident and act a different way, is this not a problem?

When we have corrupt institutions, there’s no incentive for outsiders to play by the rules. If we have reason to believe we’ll be mistreated, then the economically logical action is to screw them, too. This is why the perception of a lack of integrity is the same thing as an actual lack of integrity.

There will always be people that attribute success or advantage to a lack of integrity. Instead of understanding that someone won on their own merit, they assume that their opponent “cheated” to win.To overcome this, we must show over the long haul that we are trustworthy and reliable.

The Road To Integrity

Integrity isn’t transactional. There are benefits to having it, but if we are honest only if there’s a benefit to us, it’s pretty meaningless.

The things that help people believe people and organizations develop integrity this:

  1. Making and keeping promises: we deliver what we say even on tiny things. To ourselves, to others. We know that making a promise has a cost. And we don’t treat a promise lightly.
  2. Stating values and mission. We say what we’re about. And we live it. We can be somewhat aspirational here.
  3. Transparency of actions. We offer ways for others to police us. Integrity is “baked in” to blockchain technology. The public record to authenticate value is why it’s valuable. We have to offer a trail of integrity around us.
  4. Recovery from breaches: We have to accept that even minor breaches may cost us opportunities, and we have to recover from them.
  5. Absurdly High Personal Standards: To make integrity work we have to offer absurdly high standards for displaying integrity.

Finally, we can’t force our standards on people outside of areas we influence.

When we judge others, we’re less likely to be able to uphold our standards when we deal with them.

Why This Post Exists:

Integrity has to be voluntary or it remains transactional.  When it’s transactional, it’s not truly integrity.

I’m writing this, not to set myself up as some paragon of integrity and virtue. I’m not.

I’ve made every mistake a man can make. And then some. The point is going forward with as much integrity as I can muster. Living a life I’m proud of and embracing high standards with my commitments to myself, to my family and to all of my customers.

I also know for a fact that trust and integrity are among the biggest weapons in a salesperson’s arsenal. Over a career, the cumulative effects are huge. You gain a big competitive advantage because you can accumulate relationships that support what you stand for. You don’t have to reinvent yourself, and you’re welcome to return to every place you’ve been.

I’ve made mistakes. I’ve let myself down, my wife down, my business partners down. At different points in my life, I’ve made every mistake on this list – from an oversight to outright deception. I see the value of integrity for its own sake and for my own sake. Hopefully, you do too.

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