All Articles Leadership Inspiration You only lose your integrity once

You only lose your integrity once

There are no do-overs with integrity. Ensure you're leading with integrity, and model it for your colleagues and employees.

3 min read



Thirty years ago my best boss, Jerry Nutter, and I were lamenting inconsistent workplace ethics in the US. I don’t remember the particular lapse of integrity that prompted that conversation.

What is clear is that organizational integrity has not gotten better in the last few decades. It’s gotten worse.

There are dozens of high-profile examples of companies — and leaders — who have gone all in with lying, cheating and stealing in recent years, including Wells Fargo, Boeing, Volkswagen, Uber and Theranos, to name a few.

In great numbers, employees continue to quit jobs at companies that behave unethically, that tolerate toxic bosses and toxic colleagues, and that don’t pay employees fairly.

Organizational integrity matters

More than 77% of adults would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there, and 79% would consider a company’s mission and purpose before applying, according to Glassdoor’s 2019 Mission & Culture Survey . 

In a seminal 2006 study by LRN, 94% of respondents said it is “critical” or “important” that the company they work for is ethical. Eighty-two percent said they would prefer to be paid less and work for a company with ethical business practices than receive higher pay at a company with questionable ethics.

It seems clear that employees have the same preferences today.

You don’t get do-overs 

When leaders tolerate unethical behaviors, for any reason, they can’t go back. As my best boss told me, “You can only lose your integrity once.”

Here’s an example: A client had a salesperson in the field who regularly inflated sales at the end of each quarter. He told clients he needed their help to boost his sales totals. They’d order products and services and pay for them before the quarter ended. After the quarter closed, the salesperson would cancel those orders and refund their payments. And he’d take home big bonuses paid on the “ghost” orders.

Everybody at the company — including senior leaders — knew exactly the game this person was playing. And they tolerated it — and paid those bonuses.

Why? Because this person generated profits year in and year out. Profits mattered more than integrity.

What less-than-ethical practices are tolerated in your organizations?

Don’t turn your head. Don’t ignore integrity flaws. Call out unethical actions. And model integrity in every plan, decision and action.

Chris Edmonds is a speaker and author as well as executive consultant, founder and CEO with The Purposeful Culture Group. He has authored or co-authored seven books, including “The Culture Engine” and “Good Comes First.” Edmonds’ videos, posts and podcasts are available at DrivingResultsThroughCulture. Follow Edmonds on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Apple Podcasts.


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