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(This is the 10th in a series of 10 lessons from former federal prosecutor Henry “Hank” Shea who learned them from white collar criminals. The lessons are ranked from 10 to 1.)

Above all else, at all times, wherever you live or work, do three things:

  1. Act with integrity
  2. Exhibit courage
  3. Honor your reputation

A) Act with and foster integrity.

“When I told one of my colleagues at the U.S. Attorney’s Office about my intention to compile a top 10 list of lessons learned, he said it all boils down to one rule: ‘Don’t Lie.’ While it is not quite that simple, you need to always stand behind the truth and punish dishonesty in all its forms.

Recent surveys show the disturbing number of students, from high school to graduate school, who cheat. In a 2006 survey of business schools, 56% of the more than 5,000 MBA students surveyed admitted cheating at least once (McCabe, Butterfield & Trevino, September 2006).”

What is integrity? Integrity derives from the Latin word integer, which means wholeness, completeness. It involves being authentic, congruent, and morally upright. It also means being consistent in living one’s values regardless of the circumstances. Integrity presupposes having a sense of self, of one’s intrinsic worth. As we age and mature we are given ample opportunities to grow in our sense of self. (For a further discussion on the virtue of integrity, see my book, “Beatitudes for the Workplace,” Chapter 2)

B) Exhibit and reward courage.

“To combat cheating and dishonesty, we need to reward courage when people stand up for what is right. Honor codes and compliance programs only work when people feel obligated and safe to report wrongdoing by others. Thus, consider how your organization treats change agents or whistleblowers – are they ignored, shunned, or muzzled or are they protected, fostered and recognized, and where appropriate, rewarded?”

Courage is about strength of character. We need it to face our inner enemies which consist mainly of fears – fear of rejection from those who may not agree with me; fear of the unknown, the possibility of losing my job if I stand by my principles; fear of change, and so forth. Courage is necessary if I have to stand alone on a decision or action.

C) Honor and protect your reputation and your organization’s reputation.

“Your reputation is your most valuable asset. It has been said that reputations are earned over a lifetime, but can be lost in a single day. So when faced with that tough ethical decision, ask yourself how your decision would look on the front page of the next morning’s newspaper, then do the right thing, do something of which you can be proud. Your acts not only define who you are but establish your reputation – they shape your life and define your legacy, so safeguard that reputation at all times.”

“Rotarians know that the best course to follow in life is the Rotary Four Way Test: be truthful, be fair, build good will, and make it beneficial to all concerned.”

(Hank Shea is a Fellow at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and its Thomas E. Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, in Minnesota and University Associate at the University of Arizona College of Law, in Tucson.)

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