A treatise for leaders who are looking for ways to infuse their values and integrity into their organization.
When the Penn State “Sandusky” scandal hit the news, I sat down and cried.
During my junior and senior years, I worked for the football office. Paterno was insane about integrity. If a player didn’t have a 3.0 on Friday night, he didn’t play on Saturday. If a player got in trouble, the team had to clean the stadium after the game. I can go on, but I won’t because Penn State leadership’s lapse in integrity decimated a century’s worth of hard-earned reputation.
“Most companies think they have integrity, until they get exposed by data, skewered by the press, boycotted by customers, dropped by investors, and protested by their own employees. They’ll punish and apologize for transgressions but throw up their hands about how to prevent them — even though they van cost a company everything.” — Robert Chesnut
You Can’t Outsource Integrity
Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolution by Robert Chesnut is a brand new book, released in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is a perfect time because corporations and their communications strategies have been disrupted like never before.
According to Chesnut, corporate ethics have been tested sorely, as he notes in an updated chapter on leading with integrity during a crisis.
“Suddenly business leaders had to answer questions on the fly. How to handle layoffs, adapt to customer expectations and shifting government requirements, and to transition entire workforces online?”
This crisis pointed out how important it is to have a culture of integrity. For example, if one of your values is employee safety, then it’s a lot easier to make decisions about whether to prioritize profitability or employee health benefits.
Rob Chesnut’s Relationship With Integrity
The author started his career as an attorney with the U.S. Justice Department. He was an Assistant US Attorney in Northern Virginia. As a federal prosecutor he ran the Major Crimes Unit where he prosecuted a wide range of crimes including CIA employee Aldrich Ames who was prosecuted for espionage.
In 1999, Chesnut shifted his career and joined the private sector. First with eBay where he got involved in fraud detection and prevention. Then he joined LiveOps, Chegg and most recently, AIrbnb where he grew the legal team from 30 to over 150 and started the “Integrity Belongs Here” program to drive ethics throughout the culture of the company.
It’s Never Too Late for Integrity
In Intentional Integrity, Chesnut strives to show leaders that integrity isn’t a roadblock to getting things done, but a “potential superpower.” The book shows you how you can set the tone and set an example with your words and actions.
When leaders embrace that integrity and responsibility are important elements of your job.
Your employees are a reflection of who you are and what you do. And when you practice intentional integrity, there’s a ripple that goes throughout your company and into the community. Being integrity consistently over time, will ultimately build trust and give your organization a long-term advantage.
The 6Cs Process is a Roadmap Toward Intentional Integrity
To infuse integrity into your organization, Chesnut proposes the 6Cs process and this is what the entire book is devoted to. Each chapter is one step of the 6Cs process.
- Chief: If the CEO of the company doesn’t embrace integrity, you can stop there.
- Customized Code of Ethics: Assuming your CEO has a level of integrity, your next step is to publish a code of conduct.
- Communicating the Code: This means regular and varied types of communication of the code throughout the organization.
- Clear Reporting System: Make it easy for employees to report ethical lapses.
- Consequences: The integrity code must be enforced.
- Constant: The last “C” is about being constant, consistent, pervasive, ubiquitous — yes, everywhere and all the time throughout your organization.
Is There Hope for Integrity?
On the first day of “Business Law” in graduate school, the professor walked in. Plopped his briefcase on the desk and then sat on the desk, with his legs dangling over the edge and asked: “Do you know why we have lawyers?”
The entire class sat in silence.
He waited for a few seconds and then said “We have lawyers because people are no damned good.”
When he said “people are no damned good” he didn’t mean that people were “bad” or “evil”. What he meant was that people didn’t behave with integrity; they would say one thing and do something else. They would promise to do something and not do it. People would say they valued something and then act like they actually value something completely different.
Integrity vs Ethics
In Intentional Integrity, the author combines ethics and integrity into one package. I’m not sure that is entirely fair and accurate.
We understand integrity to mean “honesty”. But the true foundational meaning of integrity means to be whole and undivided. In other words, at its core, integrity means that your actions match your values.
I posit that CEOs (especially of large enterprises) have integrity (meaning that their behavior is consistent with their values). But not all leaders have ethics, which are moral principles that guide behavior.
And this book is written for those CEOs who are committed to having their ethics reflected in their values and those values be clearly communicated throughout their organization — thereby creating INTEGRITY (being whole and undivided).
What’s Odd About This Book
I would say Intentional Integrity is the motherhood and apple pie of leadership books.
But, to be honest, it’s preaching to the choir. The people who will most enjoy this book are the people who are already running their business with a high level of ethics and integrity, And these people will get a roadmap toward shifting your values and ethics out of your head and throughout your organization.
In some ways, it’s like Chesnut is writing to those people who may have strayed from the ethical straight and narrow. Maybe it’s people who have started their business with high-minded values, but who have been challenged by the complexities and impossible choices between people and profits.
Ultimately, the message underneath Intentional Integrity is that ethics and integrity count. And that one simple lapse in judgment can decimate the business you’ve worked so hard to build.