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Integrity - Refusing to Work in the Gray Areas

Just because there is no rule against it, does not mean it is okay to do it.

“We may be working in the gray areas on this one.”

“How gray?” they asked.

“Charcoal,” was my pithy reply.

I knew we were coming close to crossing a line which was not clearly defined by any law or company policy. But, since it was not clear where the line was officially drawn, I believed it was okay to push our team to operate in the gray. I had fallen into the old belief which said, “If there is no rule against it, it must be okay.”

Looking back, I realize I had set a pretty low standard of Integrity for myself and our team. Fortunately, I had someone show me the right way. He didn’t preach at me nor did he condemn my choices. He simply set a better example.

I had been leading my first sales team for about two years when Stan entered my world. He had been leading his own team for five years. He had already won our company’s coveted sales leadership award twice. To top it off, his team was about to win again. Where was I on the list? The team I led was near the bottom of the ranking report—the very bottom.

Stan’s team sold different products in the same geographic region as our team. They were excelling and we were barely surviving. But I discovered another difference between our teams. His team never deviated into the gray areas. He set the tone that it was not acceptable and his team followed his lead. On the other hand, I set the tone that there were shades of gray which were fair game. I truly believed I was giving my team more flexibility to drive sales—but was I?

As I watched Stan’s team and listened to him talk at our monthly leadership team meetings, I realized he knew how to win the right way. I sat there and thought about my own values and realized I had lost track of what Integrity really was.

Integrity is not just about following the rules. Integrity is about doing the right thing even if there are no rules or the rules allow for gray areas. As I thought about Stan’s example, I went back to the decision-making principles I learned at West Point called the Three Rules of Thumb:

The Three Rules of Thumb

  1. Does this action attempt to deceive or allow anyone to be deceived?

  2. Does this action gain or allow the gain of privilege or advantage which I or someone else would not be otherwise entitled?

  3. Would I be satisfied if I were on the receiving end of this action?

Stan made his decisions and led his team using the Three Rules of Thumb, even though he had never heard of them before. I realized I had failed my team, my family and the school I loved because I had drifted away from my core values. If I filtered my decisions through these Three Rules of Thumb, I would never have operated in the gray areas and never put the team in a position to either.

Stan’s example had a big impact on me personally and how I chose to lead in the future. He reminded me there was a better way. From there on, I changed my habits and pushed our team to change theirs.

To my surprise, the shift was a relief to many people on our team. They had followed my lead but were not comfortable doing it. When I started to lead with Integrity, those salespeople became more confident in what they were saying.

You see, sales is a transfer of confidence. When the salespeople became more confident, so did our customers. As a result, our performance began to climb. Two years later, our team won our first award. That year Stan’s team won their fourth. Both teams won because they did the right thing and avoided the gray areas.

Just because there is no rule against something, does not mean it is okay. When we are faced with a choice—and we need clarity—the Three Rules of Thumb can keep us away from the gray, strengthen our Integrity and give the people around us confidence.

Dig Deep Questions:

  • Which Rule of Thumb could change your choices the most?

  • When one team operates in the gray area and another doesn’t, how does it affect other team members?


Making a shift towards taking responsibility and living with Integrity is a lifelong journey. We want to partner with you as you practice the habit of Integrity daily, which is why we have created our Habits of Character Action Guides.

The Integrity Action Guide offers you a month of daily, interactive training complete with a daily reading, dig deep questions, weekly processing guides and instructions on how to use the guide both individually and with your team. The Integrity Action Guide is now available here.

We are behind you, championing for you, your teams and your organizations as you become the leader you wish you had. We want to come alongside you as you grow to confidently answer “yes” to the question, “Would you follow you?”

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