What A Goldman Sachs Banker Can Teach You About Integrity
The first time I saw it was on Facebook. Fascinated, I read the whole story.
Then I saw it trending on Twitter. Very serious and important financial and political journalists who are household names here in the UK were talking about it.
Then my boyf and I had a brief flurry of emails about it. The City of London was a-buzz with the hot gossip.
I’m talking about the very public and explosive resignation of Greg Smith from investment bank Goldman Sachs. The whole thing is astonishing to all sorts of different people for all sorts of different reasons but, for me, I was fascinated by the rare display of integrity.
Integrity is a word that gets thrown around a lot. I see it being misused frequently.
Often, I’ll hear people talk about their integrity as if integrity in and of itself was a value they’re proud to uphold.
The word “integrity” stems from the Latin adjective integer meaning whole and complete.In this context, integrity implies an inner sense of “wholeness” which derives from personally held values such as honesty, openness, consistency, trust, sincerity.
Hey…let’s include other value words you don’t hear so much – fun, play, pleasure, sensuality, zest. These are just as important.
So with that said, you can “have integrity” to the extent to which you act in line with and according to the values and beliefs you hold as worthwhile, sacred and important.
Integrity is always a centralizing concept – it’s the backbone off of which your values run down, it’s the centre of the wheel and your values are the spokes that spread out from the centre, it’s the trunk of the tree…your values are the branches. Get the idea?
Right now there are a gazillion conspiracy theories now buzzing around about why he really left and whether other people are behind it…I don’t care. For me, a huge take away from Greg’s dramatic departure was how it’s shined the spotlight on what it means to have integrity and what it means to be in integrity with your values.
Integrity is knowing what you stand for coupled with an unswerving willingness to act on that knowing.
Greg Smith would have been out of integrity with his values, with his beliefs if he’d stayed working at Goldman Sachs. Whatever else happens to the man now in the aftermath of all this, I like to imagine him looking himself in the mirror and knowing he acted in integrity.
Integrity is being accountable to yourself.
In the world of building and architecture, structural integrity means that the building will stand up – that the components, the joints, the system at play is sound and built well; that it won’t deteriorate or break down over time. It is a consistency and standard of excellence in engineering.
If integrity means being accountable to yourself it means honouring the commitments you’ve made, not just to other people but also to yourself. It means doing the things you say you’re going to do even if no one heard you say it and no one’s watching you do it.
And yes, it means having the courage to leave the job if you’re lying when you value truth, duping clients when you value being straightforward, denigrating your clients when you value respect.
Have integrity or being in integrity with your values doesn’t mean you won’t mess up. You’re human, which means you arrived with a VIP pass to the Imperfect Club. What it does mean is that there’s always an invitation to come back to yourself, always a chance to ask yourself: “If I were a building, would I be structurally sound? Am I building this life on foundations I believe in?”
Ultimately, you are the one that has to live with you always. No escape. In my imagination, I picture Greg Smith having his very own “come to Jesus” moment when he realized he couldn’t live with him a day longer if he kept working at Goldman.
So I say good for him.
We can all learn from the courage it can take to live with integrity, in line with what we’ve declared matters. It might not be a high profile departure from a global bank, but I’m asking you this: is there something you need to be accountable to yourself about? What can you do about it right now?
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