“It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation but you can lose it in a minute.” -Will Rogers
So Lance Armstrong admits his whole career was, “one big lie,” as if this is news. Did anyone still believe his denials? I don’t even know if this is the actual quote. I’ve probably taken it out of context but it doesn’t really matter, anyway. He lied and cheated his way to the pinnacle of his sport as so many others have. It’s rampant. Barry Bonds did the same in baseball as did Roger Clemens and countless NFL players. All of them lied and cheated their way to the top. But they also worked very hard, too. They all had to have phenomenal natural talent, as well, to have gone as far as they did. My Dad taught me that success requires a complete commitment to W.I.T. – Whatever It Takes. These guys are proof of that. They were willing to do whatever it takes in order to achieve the level of success they desired, including breaking the rules and being dishonest.
Now I don’t really have any real problem with these guys and what they’ve done. If they want to ruin their bodies with harmful drugs and forever tarnish their names by lying and cheating that’s their prerogative. I believe in Karma and their tarnished legacies are their punishment. But there’s an interesting article in the New York Times today about Armstrong’s former teammates and how they feel about his confession. Where I have a problem with Lance is not that he chose to lie. Like I said, it’s a free country and he can choose to harm himself any way he wants to. What I believe is most shameful is that he took it upon himself to ruin the lives of his former teammates who decided to tell the truth. And he still has not copped to this nor made apology for it.
I bring this up because I think that if anyone is guilty of these kind of ethical transgressions it’s Wall Street. Insider trading is a popular topic these days and it’s just like performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Plenty of traders feel that it’s only wrong if you get caught. They use the “everyone else is doing it” defense just like athletes do. And it goes way beyond insider trading. In fact, insider trading may be the most benign version of lying and cheating on Wall Street because who is harmed when a trader makes money trading on insider information? It’s hard to quantify. But there are plenty of other examples of products or practices that do outright harm to an easily identifiable person and they are justified or rationalized by merely noting that this is common practice in the industry, aka ‘everyone else is doing it so it’s okay for me to do it.’
Well that’s not good enough for me. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend something to someone – even if it’s legal – when I know that it harms them or when it’s not completely forthright. To be right with my own conscience I have to hold myself to a standard that is higher than anything required by the industry or any regulatory body. I have as much desire and ambition to be great as anyone. Like these athletes and traders I believe in the W.I.T. commitment that my father taught me with one, major amendment: I must not harm anyone else in the process. And even beyond that, I’m not a practicing Christian but I believe, not only in my personal life buy in my professional one as well, that doing well for myself requires, ‘doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.’
The greatest form of success I can achieve is to do my level best to empathically and enthusiastically support others in achieving their greatest hopes and dreams in line with my values and theirs. Seeing others successful in those things is far more gratifying than achieving my own individual successes. And just as liars and cheaters behaviors damage their reputations and ultimately undermine their successes, I believe those who practice compassion and generosity see their reputations burnished and their successes multiplied exponentially. Now I don’t know how to fix lying and cheating in sports or on Wall Street but I know that, at the very least, I can be an example of another way.