This week the world celebrated efforts and accomplishments at the Olympic Games in London.
Gold medal winners Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin garnered headlines. So did inspired performances (though not podium finishes) by Niger rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka and Saudi Arabia’s first female Olympic athlete, judo competitor Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani.
There were also less inspiring Olympic stories in the headlines. Badminton teams which had already won their pool played to lose matches so they’d face less capable teams in the semifinals; four teams were expelled for not demonstrating Olympic values. Japan’s women’s soccer team was coached to play to an intentional draw in their match against South Africa so they would not have to travel 400 miles for a semifinal game. Britan’s gold-medal winning cyclist admits he crashed on purpose to get a restart in qualifying, exploiting a loophole in Olympic rules. In these last two examples, Olympic officials decided not to investigate the team’s actions.
A consistent theme with these ethical issues: the athletes were directed by their coaches to lose, draw, or crash.
Personal Integrity is Yours to Gain or Lose
I cannot put myself into these athlete’s or coach’s shoes; I am not an expert in their circumstances. I understand the opportunity that loopholes might present for companies in a tight marketplace. I do evaluate how these athletes, teams, and coaches actions make me feel and think about them – I don’t trust that they’d do the right thing, in the moment, no matter what. These athletes, teams, and coaches’ recent decisions tell me that the “right thing” for them depends on how well that “right thing” serves their selfish needs.
Not a good feeling.
The reality is that one’s personal integrity is built and maintained, moment to moment, by 1) keeping your commitments – by doing what you say you will do, and 2) doing the right thing. When our personal values are clear, it is easy to know when a plan, decision, or action is not aligned to those values. When personal values are clear, it is easy to know when your organization’s values are inconsistent with your own. The “right thing” is the decision or action which serves the greater good, not the selfish good.
Don Shula, one of the most successful NFL coaches ever, said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Figure out what you stand for. If you haven’t yet done so, spend an hour or two formalizing your personal values. Test them; your experience with applying your values in the real world will help you refine them.
If you find yourself in an organization that behaves in ways that align with your values, that’s fabulous. If you find yourself in an organization that asks you to compromise your values, you need to decide if you can remain in that circumstance.
Be true to your personal values. Do your best. Do the right thing, no matter what.
Join in the conversation! Do you agree or disagree with my views on personal integrity? Share your insights in the comments section below.
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