A very challenging year

This last year has been one of the most difficult in my career. I’ve taken a forced walk on the dark side of integrity in a way I never expected.

After serving as a Board Member with a large company for three years, I entered an election that turned out to be the most contentious thing I’d ever encountered. Blatantly false accusations about me went flying, almost from the start, and I struggled to understand why one of my opponents, whose son I used to coach in baseball, distrusted me so thoroughly. The race was expensive in terms of money, time and emotion, but when election day arrived, I won. Maripat and I breathed a big sigh of relief.

Then, another conflict

Then two months later, those same questions (related to potential conflict of interest) popped up again, only this time originating from the organization I’d been elected to serve! A Request for Proposal had gone out from the company to one of my clients, which would indeed have presented a potential conflict. As soon as I learned of the RFP, I informed the company about it and promised to remove myself from any discussions or decision-making that might relate to it.

That’s how conflicts of interest are handled. Integrity requires that you report the potential conflict and take measures to ensure that you will not influence the outcome in any way. But in this case, those actions did not satisfy.

Because of the way the company by-laws regarding conflict of interest were written, I discovered that, technically, I could find myself in conflict without even knowing it! Essentially, I was being held accountable for information which I had never (and still haven’t) been given access to. One of my clients could enter into a contract as a vendor for the company, and I would never even know that it happened, because I don’t know who is on their Approved Vendor list. That put me in an untenable position!

I prayed for God’s wisdom as I weighed my options. What would a man of integrity do in a situation like this?

I didn’t want to file a lawsuit

Some very knowledgeable people told me I had an excellent case against the company and urged me to file a lawsuit. I didn’t like that idea! In the end, no one would really have “won”. I could have. stayed and fought to defend myself. Or, I could step aside and turn my full attention back to my consulting practice and other business ventures. It was a hard decision to make, but I felt in my heart that it was best for everyone concerned that I resign. So I did.

Sadly, the company did little to protect my reputation when asked by reporters if I had been forced to resign because I had a conflict of interest. I did not–had never–had a conflict, but they simply “refused to comment.” Then the fallout began: Speculative newspaper articles were written and social media posts were made questioning my character. Friends who had supported me in the campaign were disappointed, and a few colleagues left my consultant team, taking their clients with them.

Did I destroy my good name with this decision?

Worst of all, I found myself fighting a daily battle against bitterness and fear of what others are thinking about me. I constantly questioned myself, “Did I do the right thing? Was there a better way to have handled this?

All for the sake of integrity. Was it worth it?

I’m certainly not perfect! I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my career, but I have honestly tried to live as a man of integrity. And I cannot lay blame at the feet of my employers. They are good people trying to do what is best for their company. This was just one of those decisions that, no matter what I chose to do, was going to come with a high price tag.

Webster’s defines integrity as “the firm adherence to a code of especially moral values” It refers to a person who has a moral compass that doesn’t waver. Simply put, it means you do the right thing, even when it costs you dearly.

Pastor Jim Abington was the perfect example of integrity.

An excellent example of integrity

Our former pastor, Jim Abington, was the perfect example of integrity. He “walked the talk” better than almost anyone else I’ve ever known. I often said that I could call him at 2 am and he would be just as steady as he was in the pulpit on Sunday morning. He stayed true to the Word of God and to the Lord’s leading in his life until the day he died.

I miss that man! I miss his humble confidence that God is good. Always. And in my heart, I know if he were here, he’d clasp my hand in his firm grip, pat me on the shoulder and say, “Jim, when you follow the leading of God in our life, there is no downside. Don’t you ever doubt that!”

The dark side of integrity is lonely, expensive and no fun. But in the end, I know I won’t regret it.