Integrity requires evaluation
Mirror turns back to self
Years ago, I worked for an Army ammunition plant. It was hard to take that job because I’ve always been anti-war and because I’m a firm believer in “Thou shalt not kill.” But I did, because I also had strong values regarding employee empowerment, team building and leadership development. This particular plant was the company’s crown jewel for implementing leading-edge practices. It was my job to help this plant move to the next level of self-managing work teams.
I’ve written more about this story in my book Edgewalkers, but briefly, there was a real turning point in my spiritual journey when I discovered evidence that the plant was knowingly making faulty ammunition and altering ballistics data so the ammunition could be sold to the military. I became a whistleblower and reported the wrongdoing to a higher level within the company. My anonymity was not protected, my life was threatened, and I had to disappear for awhile until the investigation was complete.
This experience completely altered my career, and I lost all sense of professional meaning and purpose, shaken as I was by the lack of integrity I saw in the leadership. I knew I had to leave corporate America, and I had no idea what God had in mind for me. In my confusion and fear, I turned to spiritual writings. In a book called Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain, I came across two concepts: (1) We draw into our lives the things we need to learn from, and (2) What is outside of us is a mirror of what is inside.
I had become pretty self-righteous. I was part of the good-guy team trying to stop the bad-guy team from causing harm. But if everything I saw outside of myself reeked of lack of integrity — lies,
greed, cover-up, finger-pointing and betrayal — so I had to ask myself “How is this external lack of integrity a mirror for what is inside of me? Where do I lack integrity, and what is the lesson I need to learn from this?”
Through self-reflection and prayer, I came to see that I lacked integrity because I seldom spoke my truth. I almost always told top leadership what they wanted to hear and was afraid to speak my misgivings. I was the only woman manager in a good ol’ boy network, and I was trying to fit in instead of having the
courage to challenge authority. I was doing what I was told instead of bringing all my ideas and skills to support positive change.
The whistleblowing experience was so visceral that afterwards it inspired me to go back into academia so that I could understand how we might create leaders and organizations that take the high road instead of that low road. I began interviewing leaders with a strong spiritual life rooted in faith in God or in something higher than themselves. These leaders were from a variety of faith backgrounds. They had several qualities in common, and one of the top five qualities was a “clear sense of values and a strong commitment to live in alignment with those values.” This is
my definition of integrity. Integrity can range from simple actions such as keeping your word to courageous actions such as recalling a product that may be a potential danger to customers or the environment.
As a liberal, I found myself feeling self-righteous again this past week as I read the news about the Trump administration and the connection to Russian meddling in the election. I don’t like those feelings of self-righteousness and judgment. They don’t fit in my value system, yet it is all too easy to go there.
So once again I need to hold up a mirror and look at my own values and examine where I may not be living fully in alignment with them. I need to look at
where I may not be being fully authentic because of my fear of what someone else might think.
Yes, I long for a world where we can trust our leaders, trust our organizations and trust each other. I will do whatever I can in my small way to move the world in this direction through my research, writing, teaching, speaking and songwriting. I don’t know if any of what I do will make a difference, but I do know that I need to keep reminding myself to look in the mirror when I don’t like what I see out there in the world.
Judi Neal is the chairman and chief executive officer of Edgewalkers International, a consulting firm focusing on workplace spirituality. She can be reached at email@example.com.