Many years ago at a church conference in England, the speaker declared, “The issue before us is black and white.” From the back of the room a lone voice cried out, “No. It’s gray…all gray.”
In the world of work, everyone encounters circumstances where the right choice is unclear. These are the gray areas, where each fork in the road has its appeal. David Radcliffe, past president of the Southern Company, says this is when we need a sense of sin.
A sense of sin is the capacity to perceive and foresee that things are not quite right. He analogizes it to seeing smoke in the crowded warehouse, an unmistakable red flag that somewhere in the building there may be a blaze. One’s integrity demands further investigation.
If the sense of sin goes lacking, we hear such statements as “I really didn’t think it was a problem;” No one will ever know;” “I’m just doing what the division manager would want me to do;” or “I’ll do it differently next time.” These and similar statements frequently signify the wrong choice. They are uttered to make ourselves comfortable with decisions that cannot withstand greater scrutiny. We are considering here conduct that does not break the rules but bends them. Albert Camus said “If you have integrity you do not even need the rules.”
Says Wayne Sales of Canadian Tire “Making a decision usually means taking the one of two roads. On the path of one lies the basis for doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. To take the other road, you have to sit back and spin a story around the decision or action you are taking. If you find yourself thinking up an elaborate justification for what you are doing, you are not doing the right thing.” (As quoted in The Integrity Advantage, by Gostick and Telford, Gibbs Smith Publishers, Layton, Utah, 2003).
In the gray areas that are sure to arise, a sense of sin calls for questions, reflection, even counseling with colleagues and co-workers. It entails taking the longer view to ensure that one does not choose the fork in the road that breaches a credo of integrity.
[For a free copy The Integrity Checklist and An Integrity Credo, email professional speaker Jim Thomas at email@example.com.]