Integrity – A Workplace Non-Negotiable

Integrity – A Workplace Non-Negotiable

Global research from Edelman’s Trust Barometer reveals that despite integrity being the most desired leadership quality, only about 25% of people think their bosses actually have it.

If you type “What Do Bosses Lie About” into Google Search it returns almost 2.5 million results! So, I don’t know how provocative it will be to share that…I have found – especially in the last few years – that there is a staggering level in the lack of integrity in today’s workplaces.

This is my third attempt at writing about this topic. Generally, when I start on a new blog article I always have an outline in my head to address the issue, I have examples to share, bullet points outlining common challenges, I try to infuse some levity, and – finally – offer solutions to the issue. This topic is really difficult for me to write about as I don’t have a solution other than – “DO WHAT’S RIGHT, NOT WHAT IS SIMPLY EASY”. “YOU ARE WHAT YOU DO, NOT WHAT YOU SAY YOU’LL DO”. “ENOUGH ALREADY WITH BEING SMARMY – BE AN HONORABLE HUMAN BEING!”.

As a society are we really so concerned about the fleeting and momentary personal interactions we have with one another today…

  • That we desperately need to avoid uncomfortable dialogs?
  • Is it a compulsive need to be liked or popular?
  • Do the masses profoundly and resolutely lack any responsibility to communicate with conviction and truth?

What is it?!

  • Why are we not inviting talent into an organization who can show they possess integrity?
  • Why are we not acting on people in the workplace when they show that they lack integrity?

When, where, why, and how is this not something that is considered a non-negotiable and what exactly is the trade-off?

  • Do you keep someone who has a good attendance record at work but they lack integrity?
  • Are they really so good at creating optics around reporting or data that we are willing to overlook the fact that they lack integrity?
  • Do they bring such great snacks in for the break room so we are willing for forgive the fact that they are a cancer to their colleagues?

Is integrity simply a “nice to have” attribute now, rather than a “need to have”? I don’t know the answer to this. What I do know – however – is that in my personal life, I have a choice…I choose not to interact or socialize with people who show me – even one time – that they lack integrity. It’s ludicrous and shameful that organizations are so clueless or cowardly that they allow this deeply important character trait to be optional. How can we build or sustain any sort of culture when you have people who have hidden agendas, lack the capacity to recognize or communicate truth, and are incapable of making selfless choices that benefit someone other than themselves in the short-term?


Weak and ineffective leaders frequently resort to various types of emotional deceit as a weapon for getting things done. They are masterful at employing emotional terrorism to get away with an evident lack of substance and results. While in some cases their behavior may be subtle and even “tolerable”, experts warn that their manipulation can easily turn to psychopathic levels, if not managed effectively.

According to the article, “The Disturbing Link Between Psychopathy And Leadership” by Victor Lipman, inside executive and senior management ranks, sociopathic behavior is more common than the corporate world is willing to admit. However, just by functioning in the business world on a daily basis I see this behavior over and over again and it infuses itself into the most benign of issues to gigantic doozies of manipulation, lying, and bullying. Some of the most common shapes a lack of integrity takes includes assigning blame, causing alarm to people and circumstances, not providing honest feedback, or blowing things out of proportion unnecessarily. Here are some of the most recent examples I have witnessed in the workplace:

  • CLOAKED INTIMIDATION: If your “manager” or coworker likes reminding you how much they have helped or supported you or how hard it would be to make it anyplace else without them [or other veiled threats] it is time be courageous, confident and to recognize who you are dealing with. Manipulative and dishonest people rarely pick people who are oozing with self-confidence and a bias towards action to bother with. Deliver excellent results and produce fabulous work that is consistently early or on time. Face your boss with self-assurance, and insist on respect and civility when you interact with each other. Be objective and fact-based in all of your communication and document your accomplishments and any challenges you face. It will be difficult for your boss to introduce inappropriate and/or unenforceable expectations later in the working relationship if you set a firm and predictable pattern as to how you deal with each other and your quality of work speaks volumes to others outside the relationship.
  • SELECTIVE ATTENTION: Dealing with an indifferent or weird “manager” is a discouraging – but sometimes necessary – task. It is made even more difficult when your “boss” only pays attention to what suits him or her. When there is daily question as to what their mood will be or how they may react to an update, obstacle, or situation…if your boss plays dumb or acts oblivious to issues that may jeopardize your performance, you have an issue. Maintaining documentation of the dialogs and interactions you have and support [or lack thereof] you receive when requested is helpful. Discussing this with your boss’ superior, project manager, department manager, Human Resources, or any other relevant business partner may help today [and for future challenges that will – likely – arise].
  • SKILLFUL EVASION: This applies to the “manager” who is always too busy to have a dialog with you. They will rarely address issues or conflict and will go out of their way to avoid facing problems. This is such a prevalent issue in today’s workplace I would, conservatively, say that 80% of the time I answer my phone I am met with the opening statement, “I know you are probably crazy busy, but can I bug you for a couple minutes“. The fact is that speaking with people, listening to them, and supporting them is my job. We exist in such an excuse driven culture that to extract ourselves from our basic responsibilities, we inflate our importance by saying we’re “so busy”. It’s nonsense. Manipulative bosses will usually escape issues or change subjects when you surface them and go to great lengths to distract you from the real challenge. They have been know to downplay problems to make them sound like a non-issue. Such tricks make you work harder to capture their attention and get resolution. Great leaders, on the other hand, are readily available to discuss and resolve problems. They don’t shy away from addressing challenges and will frequently be so involved they can diffuse issues before they become impediments. Another area that discourages integrity is in the out-dated, moldy, and completely worthless annual performance appraisal process. If you are absolutely fabulous – with results to prove it – and you get a “meets expectation” or conversely if you are terrible and you receive a “meets expectation” that is yet another example that the “boss” lacks integrity [and by maintaining this silly. antiquated process the company perpetuates this culture].

  • PLACING YOU IN UNFAIR SITUATIONS: When a boss does not respect open communication, it is a form of manipulation. If you experience your “manager” assigning blame for their lack of results, it is a good time to address the issue. The worst of the worst “bosses” employ passive aggression, they put down your performance, only remember your “misses”, and utilize other shaming techniques – this is a clear sign you have someone who lacks integrity. You are absolutely within your rights to set limits on what what you are willing to tolerate. The best method of dealing with a manipulative person is not to let their gross behavior effect your performance or mood. Avoid letting them see you become emotional. Bullies blossom by playing with your emotions and creating havoc for you. Confidence and candor, on the other hand, can limit the person’s interest in you because they are unable to achieve their intended effect.
  • THEY SPEAK TO SOUND SMART BUT LACK SUBSTANCE: This could be talking in confusing circles, using newly learned words or vernacular that is unfamiliar to you or your organization. You can tell when you have a boss that is – legitimately – intelligent from one that is simply being a jerk and trying to make others feel deficient in some way. The use and communication of these kooky words and phrases are not meant to teach you or push you to grow in your role. Lacking-In-Integrity “managers” use their new-found knowledge to intimidate and embarrass those around them. Be clear and specific in your conversations, and request direct and human responses. When “managers” use these empty and ugly bits of “management-speak” that have floated out of trendy business books and training seminars it propagates the use of these words & phrases by politicking mediocrity who then use them to try to get ahead. I know the use of words seems trivial but it is one of the telling signs that communicate a lack of integrity…by adopting and advocating “management-speak” instead of speaking plainly, we are now using a language that makes most relationships, essentially, commercial ones. Commercial relationships become transactional so average people feel safe being a bore because it’s allows for an indirect and inhuman way to communicate and extracts any human nature responsibility or decency we may have to each other.


There are no moral shortcuts in the game of business or life. There are, basically, three kinds of people, the unsuccessful, the temporarily successful, and those who become and remain successful. The difference is character. – Jon Hunstman, Sr.

The Hendricks Institute has been studying and reporting on operational integrity for several decades and have recognized four pillars that support decisions, actions, and choices based on integrity:

  • Emotional Literacy:
    • To know and be able to articulate what you are feeling at the moment when you are feeling it
    • To be able to talk about feelings congruently in such a way that other people understand
    • To be able to stay aware of feelings until they subside, instead of indulging them gossiping, rumor-spreading, decreased productivity, or passive-aggressiveness
  • Impeccable Agreements:
    • To see that keeping agreements increases your aliveness and learning rather than thinking of agreements as rules you are being forced to follow
    • To keep the agreements that you make
    • To not enter into agreements you cannot or will not follow through on
    • To know how to adapt and communicate changes to agreements that are not working
  • Authentic Speaking and Resonant Listening:
    • To communicate in a way that is unarguable and objective [fact based instead of emotionally based]
    • To communicate the details of what is going on in any given moment in a way that invites wonder and solutions and that does not assign blame to anyone
    • To take responsibility for communication until the other person comprehends what you are saying
    • To be the source and initiator of authenticity in all situations and interactions
    • To listen for accuracy, with empathy and promote mutual creativity
    • To reveal and share [transparency] rather than conceal
  • Healthy Responsibility:
    • To know how to take 100% responsibility reliably
    • To shift from a defensive mindset to a learning mindset [don’t fear failure]
    • To actively promote and inspire 100% responsibility in others
    • To easily and readily offer solutions to obstacles

There should be no exceptions  or compromise to honesty and integrity. Integrity is a state of mind and absolutely not situational. If you compromise your integrity in small situations with little consequence, then it becomes very easy to compromise on the larger situations.

Integrity In The Workplace

  • Integrity Increases Your Chances For Sustainable Success: When I start working with a new company – after the first two weeks [framework assessment period] – I hold a strategic planning session, the first topic I surface that we all need to agree on and move forward with – so we can communicate with radical candor – is integrity. Most companies I have worked with have integrity as one of their tenets but there is often a large chasm between the company mission and values statement to the reality of the culture. Great leaders know that honesty and integrity are the foundations of leadership. True leaders stand up for what they believe in, what is right, and what is aligned with the company purpose.
  • Great Leadership Never Compromise Their Honesty And Integrity By Cheating, Lying, Assigning Blame: Leaders that are aligned with and support the company’s vision will offer solutions, overcome obstacles, and they quickly and decisively weed out people who create impediments or have hidden agendas.

  • Integrity Means Doing The Right Thing Because It’s The Right Thing To Do: Not the convenient thing to do. Not the easy thing to do [if integrity was easy everyone would display it]. Leaders with integrity may not be the most popular of leaders and sometimes are even labeled as rebels, but that just energizes them. Integrity means doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. And that’s what fosters success and sustainability.
  • It Defines Your Reputation: Great leaders keep their promises. They give commitments and promises very carefully, but once they have committed, they follow through on that promise without fail.

  • Leaders With Integrity Don’t Fear The Truth: Leaders with integrity aren’t afraid to speak, hear, or function within the truth. This is called the reality principle.  It is perhaps the most important principle of leadership and hyper-dependent on integrity because it demands two-way radical candor and honesty at all times. Many companies struggle or find themselves in distress because they don’t follow this principle.  They exist and operate inside an executive bubble of ego. Integrity means telling the truth and absorbing it even if the truth is horrible. Knowing that it’s better to be honest than to delude yourself and others. Eventually the truth will make its presence known. Leaders need to be fearless, but they also need to be open to the idea that they could be incorrect. There are too many “leaders” who eventually fail because they are too wrapped up in their own hubris to question their assumptions, directions, or conclusions.

There’s a huge distinction between being confident and being blind. Let’s face it, In today’s evolving world, there is a possibility that you are a little bit wrong wrong or even completely wrong. Even if you are not wrong you can only benefit by opening yourself to alternate perspectives and differing points of view. Being adaptable and solicitous of new ideas makes you a more effective leader because it will open your mind to new ideas or new ways of thinking.




Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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One thought on “Integrity – A Workplace Non-Negotiable

  1. I just happen to stumble upon this blog and I am so ecstatic that I did! This is fantastic and so spot on. I am sharing this now with friends and look forward to reading all you have written. Thank you so much for addressing all of these issues in the retail work environment.

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