Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder. To keep himself out of trouble he relied on his lawyer, nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of prison. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well. Capone also blessed Eddie with a fenced in mansion that took up an entire city block. Eddie enjoyed all the luxuries wealth could provide. But something changed Eddie’s life forever.
Eddie had a son. He gave his son everything money could buy. Price was no object. But he knew he could never give his son two things – a good name and a good example. One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. He decided he had to change his ways if he wanted to change his legacy for his son. He went to the authorities and testified against Al Capone. In Eddie’s eyes, he gave his son something worth dying for. Within a year of testifying, Capone’s gang shot and killed Eddie on the cold streets of Chicago. When then police arrived on the scene, they removed from his pockets a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion, and a poem clipped from a magazine.
Easy Eddie wanted to pass on a virtue which cannot be bought – Integrity. Eddie wanted to give his son a moral compass with a living example. Integrity is hard to come by. Integrity means we practice what we preach. We walk the talk. There’s no difference between our “proclaimed values” and our “practiced values.” Integrity essentially means honesty. Honesty of Character. To give a plain example, I would rather deal with an honest thief than a shady salesman. At least I know where the first man stands.
Unfortunately, most of our examples come from failures of integrity rather than shining specimens. Bill Clinton told the world “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” He lied under oath to cover up a private life soaked in sly sexual encounters. And what’s the result? We don’t trust him. He’s lost something hard to get and easy to lose – Integrity.
Leaders with integrity place principles above people. That means doing what’s right, no matter what the personal cost. On the job. In the family. At the board meeting. It means we live by a set of virtues like honesty, fairness, generosity, respect, and love. We don’t preach these principles with our words, but our actions tell a story of virtue. Not a story of perfection, but of goodness.
When principles are big and people are small – you’re a person of integrity. When people are big and principles are small – you’re political. Let me explain.
- Political people don’t have integrity
- Political people aim for approval rather than what’s right
- Political people aim for self gain rather than servant leadership
- Political people can’t earn our trust, which is why we don’t respect them
- Political people make terrible leaders, which is why we don’t follow them
When principles are big and people are small – you’re a person of integrity. When people are big and principles are small – you’re political.
We want people we can trust. We want leaders we can follow, knowing they live by something bigger than their own self-gain. They live for something that matters. And we need to be the same for those we influence. Our children. Our colleagues. Our neighborhood, city, and nation. Sound hard. Absolutely. Impossible? No. But we need a vision people can embrace, and a moral compass to guide us. That’s why people of integrity stand out.
People of integrity shine like diamonds. We either admire them or hide from them. If we do what’s right, we enjoy a camaraderie with people we believe we can trust. If we do what’s wrong we avoid the light of their morality. That’s because they expose our immaturity, our selfishness, or our hypocrisy without even trying.
People with integrity don’t surprise us. No slavery to secret things will tarnish their reputation. This is crucial to leadership. People need the ability to trust us deeply. And trust is earned, not given. They need to know we are who we say we are.
Now, you may say, “Hey, no one is perfect!” And I agree! Trust me, I’m well acquainted with my own imperfections. I can’t count the times I’ve been selfish, rude, slow to listen, etc. Trust me, between being married and trying to lead well, there’s no shortage of examples I could pull from and say, “Don’t do this!”
Integrity doesn’t mean perfection, it means moral principle. It means we strive for what’s right. We aim to give our children an example they can follow without shame. We live to create a legacy, just like Easy Eddie tried to do. Remember how the police found a poem in his pockets? Here’s what the poem read:
For the clock may soon be still.
Here’s an example of a hero we can admire: Butch O’ Hare was a World War II Pilot. During a standard flying patrol he realized that his gas tank was running low. He had to return to base alone. While flying back to base he saw something that electrified his nerves. A group of nine enemy bombers were in route to destroy his Navy base and everyone on it. Worse, he could’t fly back to alert his fellow pilots. He had to engage the enemy immediately if there was any hope of saving the entire Navy company.
He flew right at the enemy planes. He flew by them with guns blazing. When he ran out of ammunition, he dove at the planes to clip their wings. He did whatever it took to save his vulnerable comrades. Eventually the shocked enemy pilots turned tail and flew away. Butch shot down five enemy plans that day. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. Today you can visit a replica of his plane in terminal two of Chicago O’Hare National Airport.
Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son.
It’s never too late to live a life of integrity. It just may be the best decision you ever make. And who knows? It may change the life of someone else forever.