Integrity Wins The Gold!

Integrity is not the only thing that matters in business, but when it’s missing, it’s EVERYTHING.

The reason Ryan Lochte lost his endorsement contracts has less to do with his behavior that unfortunate night in Rio when he and his US Olympic Swimming teammates fabricated a story about being held up by gunpoint at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic Games.  His story, which later proved to be a fabrication, violated the most important rule in the book – Always have integrity.

He was quoted in a CNN article as saying “I over-exaggerated that story and if I had never done that we wouldn’t be in this mess.”  He’s right about that. Based on the details of what happened, had those four swimmers kept their mouths shut about the incident, they probably would have been able to leave the Rio games and get home without incident. Instead, Lochte lost four sponsors and will have some work to do to rebuild his reputation and public image.

He’s since apologized for taking attention away from the second half of the games telling People Magazine, “I made things up,” he says. “I didn’t tell the truth. And that’s on me. I messed up, and made a big mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Integrity Matters

Integrity is a critical quality to possess and in my view, if you don’t have integrity, you’ve got nothing. This Olympic story provides a nice framework to examine the importance of integrity. First let’s start with the Merriam-Webster’s definition:

    1. firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values :  incorruptibility
    1. an unimpaired condition :  soundness
  1. the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

Lochte failed on all three counts:

First, He strayed from moral code that night when he and teammates vandalized the gas station, urinated on the building and then covered up the true details with a story about being robbed. He failed to take accountability for his actions.  Second, he failed to demonstrate sound reason and judgement expected of an international star and role model. Third, his account of the details and his role in what had happened was far from complete. He made up details and left out facts in order to framed the story in a much different light.

This lack of integrity is the reason that Speedo, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gentle Hair Removal and mattress maker Airweave pulled their sponsorship and support of Lochte.

This situation teaches us a lesson about the importance that accountability and integrity play in our work and personal dealings. Failing to have integrity can lead to unnecessary backtracking and recounting of details. It can also have disastrous financial consequences as was the case for Lochte. When discovered, a lack of integrity can have immediate consequences such as loss of business (or endorsements), termination or financial penalties.

A lack of integrity is the kiss of death in business and can lead to unfortunate outcomes for you and your company. Employees failing to act with integrity negatively impact the top and bottom line and hurts colleagues and shareholders alike. Even the spectre of impropriety can damage public trust.

When managers and leaders lack integrity, they model negative behaviors that employees may follow or emulate.  While the Lochte situation is pretty inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, there are countless examples of executives and corporations failing to act with integrity. Here are a few big ones that come to mind:

    • Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal and cover up
    • Financial firms involved in the 2008 Subprime Mortgage Meltdown
    • Executives backdating stock options to enrich themselves
    • Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme
    • Enron
  • FIFA Corruption Scandal

This Fortune article highlights some of the biggest scandals of 2015. Remember, companies don’t lack integrity, people do.