It seems like everywhere we look today our heroes are falling—publicly. Volkswagen, deflate-gate, Ashley Madison, two world bridge champions (that’s right, the card game), Atlanta educators. People and companies we trust and admire betray that trust and destroy that admiration. It’s enough to make us believe that sacrificing our values and our character is the fastest, easiest, and most common way to the top. But as I explained in this post, that is just a myth.
Sure, even serial winners make mistakes, bad decisions, etc. But they don’t abandon their core values. First, because they want to do great things and feel good about their achievements. Second, because they know that cheating in any form—lying, stealing, cutting corners that produce a faulty product, and so on—will come back to bite them in the rear.
Cheating is a loser’s game! Honesty and integrity deliver a much higher ROI. Wise people know that and act accordingly.
“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.” —Proverbs 10:9
The day you decide to cheat is the day you lose, even if the results don’t show up for weeks, months, or years. When you’re tempted—and we are all tempted—refer to the list below to remind yourself why being honest and acting with integrity is the better strategy for overcoming obstacles.
1. At least nine times out of ten, you’ll be caught. The bigger the cheat, the more likely you’ll be caught. Being honest substantially reduces your stress level, because you don’t have to worry about this inevitability.
2. Integrity is almost always the more efficient path forward. The time and energy you waste trying to avoid being caught is often greater than the time and energy you save by cheating.
3. When you cheat, somebody is always negatively and unfairly affected—very possibly somebody you care about. The emotional fallout might never be repaired—and that will cost you relationships and peace of mind.
4. Every time you’re honest, you are building and protecting your reputation. Cheating destroys the reputation you’ve built with your achievements. That reputation is an asset you leverage in your career and personal life.
5. Those closest to you—family, friends, colleagues—carry your shame, too. You can’t know what the costs for them might be. (Bernie Madoff’s son, Mark, committed suicide on the two-year anniversary of Madoff’s arrest.)
6. You can expect your network, another critical asset, to shrink as people distance themselves from you once you’re caught. You make yourself an outcast by cheating … and no one wants that.
7. You’ll set an example for somebody, creating a wider ripple of negative effects. (Not to harp, but a number of Bernie Madoff’s family members are being investigated for various forms of fraud.)
8. If you’ve done big, important things, they will be overshadowed—maybe even destroyed—by the scandal. (Just look at LiveStrong’s decline in the wake of Lance’s admission of guilt.)
9. When you’re honest, you don’t have to waste time and money trying to limit the negative effects of being found out—think lawyers, writers to help you craft apologies, repairing or repaying damages. (Look at Volkswagen’s mounting expenses.)
10. Depending on the type of cheating, you may be risking your freedom. If you’ve broken the law, expect jail time. (Hey, if it can happen to Martha Stewart …) For most people, jail time can be a career killer.
11. Trust is a necessary part of any rewarding relationship, business or personal, and it’s built on honesty and integrity. Don’t expect people to trust you for a very long time—or ever—if they find out you’ve cheated.
12. Whether you get caught or not, if you cheat, you’ll never see a full return on the investment of the legitimate time and energy you put into the goal. The achievement won’t be as great or as lasting.
Bottom line: Don’t cheat! There may come a time when it seems like the easy way forward, but it’s the first step on the path to destroying a lot of what you’ve worked for. Choose honesty and integrity instead, and you’ll see better returns on your efforts in the short and long term.