Remember those times as a kid when you got into trouble by doing something because your friends did it? And your mom asked, “If your friends jumped off a bridge would you jump, too?”

Unfortunately, as adults we sometimes take our cues regarding ethical behavior from others as well. If unethical behavior is viewed as the norm in a certain arena we, too, will likely engage in that behavior. After all, everyone does it, so it’s okay, right?

The political arena is an obvious example. But there are questionable behaviors elsewhere that are deemed acceptable.

Take, for example, negotiations during the sale of my used car. I can claim that it is worth more than I actually think it is worth because that’s an accepted part of deal making. I stake out a high position, you stake out a low position and we negotiate to something in between. We all do it, so it’s okay, right?

I can string together a set of statements, each of which is factually true, to create in the mind of the listener something that I know is false. I didn’t tell a lie so it’s okay, right?

No, it’s not okay and the more we excuse that type of behavior, the less ethical our society becomes. As good leaders, we have to stay on the bridge of integrity even if everyone around us is jumping off of it.

For example, I once forgot about an early morning appointment. By the time I remembered I was on the road and already late. In my panic I thought about calling the person and telling him “I am in traffic”, a true statement. And “I am going to be late getting to the restaurant”, also a true statement. Clearly, the perception I was trying to create was that I was late because I was in traffic, which was not true.

Unfortunately, for me (tongue in cheek), I was raised better than that and I had just learned a new definition of deception – creating a perception in the mind of the listener that I know is not true. So when I called my colleague, I confessed the truth. I had to cash in some of my trust chips (earned over a long period of mutual trust in our relationship and in our communications) but it was worth it.

As good leaders, integrity has to be something we live out for ourselves and model for those around us.

If you’re willing to share, please let me know when you “stayed on the bridge”. What did you gain from that experience? Send me a note via the contact form. I will send you an excerpt from my book, Transforming: The Power of Leading from Identity, as a thank you.