What the hell is going on? Every time I turn on the TV or open the newspaper, there’s a headline about elected leaders who lie, journalists who shade the truth, academics who cheat, parents who pay (and lie and cheat and shade the truth) to make it easier for their kids to get into the best schools, religious institutions that have tolerated crimes. And that was all in one news cycle!
It’s absolute madness.
I’m not sure what kind of “leadership” we are witnessing these days, but the integrity bar must be set higher. What has led to this willingness to throw our standards and values out the window? Yes, these are hard and cynical times, but that doesn’t give people—and certainly not leaders—the green light to deflect responsibility and place blame on others. A mentor of mine, Fred Burns, once said to me, “You either have integrity or you don’t. Period.” He was so right. It’s pretty black and white.
Why do I raise this in a business publication? Because as the industry transforms, both from inside and out, there is an incredible opportunity to build a new system based on integrity for our clients. In this very magazine not too long ago, we wrote about the industry’s role in remediating the mistrust we see all too often in corporate America. “The insurance industry is in a unique position right now to greatly contribute to these efforts to change the conversation between consumers and corporations.” [Callous Capitalism, March 2017]
The message today is the same as it was then: that business value should be recognized well beyond closing deals and quarterly returns.
Part of this, of course, is corporate social responsibility—an increasingly important piece of today’s business strategy. But the opportunity for us to truly transform the way our business is perceived is through the service and counsel brokers uniquely offer.
I’m not suggesting you don’t make money. We’re all running businesses. But putting profit above all else is not the only responsibility of business, as economist Milton Friedman told us in 1970. There’s a difference between doing business with integrity and providing real security to your clients versus churning out contracts that require your clients to jump through hoops when they need you the most.
It seems to me that companies of high integrity succeed. Take Patagonia, for example. A product-driven company with more than $750 million in sales and a business philosophy focused on doing what’s right for the planet. Interesting that the decisions they make with the environment in mind seem also to be good for business.
The insurance industry does a lot of good. That fact needs to be highlighted more, as we all know. At the same time, the more we focus on service and fully embrace the role of advisor to clients we care about, the better chance we have of achieving success—as organizations and as people.
The seeming diminishment of integrity is all around us. We have a power and a responsibility to protect our industry from that fate. You see, integrity is not just a corporate responsibility but a personal one as well. It is important we lead by example.
I’m going to start by turning off the TV.