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Integrity

Integrity: You Only Have It When You Know You Don’t

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At Scholars of Finance, we have six core values that are at the center of what we teach: Integrity, Compassion, Humility, Curiosity, Impact, and Courage. Each month, our members vote on the “Value of the Month”, which helps focus our discussions on topics pertinent to that value.

Integrity was our value for March. Here are our epithet and principles for Integrity:

Integrity

Do what’s right

  • Do the right thing, always
  • Build trust through transparency and accountability 
  • Honor your responsibilities and commitments
  • Speak the truth at all times

We utilize integrity in both a moral sense and as a barometer of trust. It both calls us to do what is “right” while also calling us to be trustworthy. These are mutually reinforcing. There are millions of pages written about what is “right”, which have culminated in an abundance of religions and moral philosophies informing how we collectively act. However, I will unpack the question of how to “define what is right” in a later blog post. For now, I will offer one example that I think is not overly controversial, builds trust, and happens to be one of our principles – to speak the truth at all times.

Many people I’ve spoken with over the years have shared that integrity, or honesty, is a core value of theirs. We rarely meet someone who claims they need to become more honest. And while I hope that this is simply a result of surrounding myself with honest people, I often wonder if this actually reflects a lack of self-awareness? Or something even worse, that our collective standard for honesty or truth is diminishing? According to the Pew Research Center, I’m not alone in wondering, as a majority of people (51%) think that misinformation online is a problem that won’t be fixed.

However, speaking the truth at all times, for many of us, seems like a “given”. It is presumed that we will do this and that we already do this. If we were a liar, how could we live with ourselves? Yet, taking time to reflect on this principle and just how profound and radical it is, opens our eyes to just how much room we have to grow in honesty. Dinner with a friend, his niece, and a couple of her classmates recently got me thinking about this. Since “Speak the truth at all times” was the principle we spent the following week reflecting on there was a timely opportunity to dig into it with our organization as well.

The young woman was a senior in high school. I was visiting my friend when she and her friends also happened to be visiting him as well (he’s a cool uncle worth visiting). They explained to me that their classmates cheat on tests rampantly. Everyone turns off their cameras on Zoom, gets on a group FaceTime, and they take the exam together. It’s become commonplace. I was a bit shocked.

As I felt myself begin to judge, the maxim “judge not lest ye be judged” came to mind. I realized that I am not one to judge because I am not perfectly honest. As I started to think about my own shortcomings, a couple of Zoom-related “white lies” that I have told struck me. I started talking to our students and some of my friends about these and many of them reported doing the same things. 

For one example, have you ever been distracted on a Zoom call, whether with work or email, been asked a question, and said something to the effect of, “Sorry, my (audio, wifi) cut out (or insert other technical difficulties), can you say that again?” I’ve done this more than once. When I ask this question on Zoom calls, almost everyone smiles knowingly or nods. 

When I shared this with one of my teammates last week, they shared an example of a small concession of the truth in their own lives too. Notably, one person shared that they will sometimes do 10 push-ups in the morning just to be able to tell people they worked out that morning – to seem productive and disciplined. But they acknowledged that the statement “I worked out this morning”, while true, generally implies they spent at least 20-30 minutes exercising, which was not the case.

Personally, I was hardly even aware that I was making small concessions of the truth. It reminded me that we stray from the truth in small ways, oftentimes almost imperceptibly. This can lead to much larger concessions of the truth over time. Simon Sinek talks about this snowball effect in his recent book The Infinite Game, which my mentor Anthony Paquette sent me – the phenomenon is called ethical fading. Ethical fading is a well-studied process by which we “slowly and gradually make moral or ethical concessions sometimes unconsciously which compound into increasingly significant ethical failures.”

This concept implicates us in a high-stakes relationship with honesty. We need to be thoughtful and diligent about cultivating integrity. Especially if we are going to be finance leaders and investors – making decisions with millions of dollars – where the upside to being dishonest has lured many down the wrong path (and into jail). Every one of us can benefit from taking the time to introspect on our integrity. If you’re reading this and thinking, “you’re wrong, I’m completely honest and none of this applies to me”, just set aside 30 minutes and ask yourself these questions:

  • Have there been any times in the last month where I have not been 100% honest, even in small ways?
  • Is there something I’ve been holding back from saying to someone that needs to be said?
  • Have I been 100% honest about how I feel about things with the people close to me?
  • Does my language sometimes imply more about what I’ve done than I actually have?
  • Has someone said something to me recently that made me defensive? Could there be some truth in their statement that I am overreacting to?

None of us are perfect, and that’s ok. What’s important is that we are willing to own up to the times when our integrity lapses. It’s how we approach these moments of ethical fading that can either lead to a slippery slope of low integrity decisions or a career built upon trust that is rightfully earned. 

I believe that all of us doing this in our own lives can inspire many more to do the same. Just like talking about mental illness can break the stigma and fuel recoveries, talking about ways our honesty has slipped can break the stigma of failure and fuel deeper relationships, whether with loved ones or teammates. Counterintuitively, it builds trust with others as people recognize your self-awareness and conscious effort to hold yourself to a high standard of integrity. 

With that, I hope you haven’t judged me as you’ve read my confession about my own shortcomings (being honest about this stuff does feel vulnerable!) and I also hope that you’re feeling even just a little motivated to examine areas in your own life where you can grow in integrity. And, if you’re really inspired, I hope you’ll talk about it with others to get accountability and grow with them too.

Enduring the COVID-19 Quarantine

By Courage, Curiosity, Humility, Impact, Integrity No Comments

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the world as a singular, integrated entity—one free of borders, restrictions, or individual nations. Rather, a massive unit of free-flowing thought, boundless inspiration, and limitless ideas. With our current circumstances, how could I not? No matter which corner of the Earth you hail from, you are likely to be one of billions stuck at home, battling similar feelings of concern, angst, or frustration toward the COVID-19 quarantine. However, looking past its overtly devastating impact and a tragic impediment to society, COVID-19 has left one particularly remarkable effect on the world—solidarity

A new degree of global awareness, one that is far too often lost in the hectic pace of everyday life, has been garnered by so many of us. For example, never have I found myself so engaged in the daily lives and feelings of those from Italy or China, who were initially afflicted the most dramatically. Never have I been so inspired by the collective voices of citizens singing from balconies, or videos of healthcare workers stripping their masks off in celebration of success. Never have I felt so in sync with the world or understood so clearly the nature of humanity—to suffer, and heal, as one.

Still, even with a firm grasp of the nature and severity of the situation, how are we going to get through this? As Scholars of Finance members, business students, and analytical enthusiasts, we are certainly accustomed to a level of unpredictability, but never before on this scale. How can we make the most of our time during the COVID-19 quarantine? In what ways can we harness growth and continue to build our personal and professional skillsets? While I am no expert, I am happy to share the number of ways I have been sustaining my productivity and sanity, plus a few more that might help you do the same.

First and foremost, while I have continued maintaining relationships that I have formed with professionals during my first semester at NYU Stern, I have also continued maintaining personal relationships. It is equally as important to check in on those who care about you and to be responsive. Allow your academic and professional roles to be principal in your life, but prioritize your friends and family just as carefully. From personal experience, when you have trouble balancing all of these different sectors of life, consider revisiting the Scholars of Finance core values—integrity, humility, curiosity, courage, and impact—to help guide your decisions.

Furthermore, it is very possible to excel in your academics. Following a relatively strict time schedule to complete your coursework, possibly one identical to your pre-quarantine schedule, deems itself a promising plan. Give yourself a structure. Consistency is key. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to change out of those pajamas you’ve worn for three days!

On a more professional note, it is unfortunate to hear that many summer internships have been canceled. However, there are a number of firms that are willing to accommodate internships digitally. In fact, just last week I interviewed for a firm that told me to expect the possibility of an online transition. Additionally, there is a multitude of online resources aimed at providing alternatives to those whose internships have been canceled: I’d recommend simply opening up your LinkedIn account, and I can guarantee that a number of these resources will pop up on your feed. If you’re having trouble, be sure to reach out to your established connections or create a post—you never know who might be able to help you. Luckily, interview prep, resume workshops, and career panels are still in abundance. Many companies are hosting live and interactive webinars, such as Wells Fargo’s 2020 Beyond College Webinar Series, and are committed to your success now more than ever.

With that, I hope a weight is lifted off your shoulders and you are able to find clarity in the transition to a digital academic/professional experience if it comes down to it. Again, it can be extremely beneficial to stay busy. Keep up with your coursework, continue advancing your professional skills, and maybe even pick up a new hobby—personally, I’m trying to learn Spanish!

To the extent that you can, try to mirror or slightly modify activities that helped you find success, and peace, before the days of the COVID-19 quarantine. In the midst of enormous chaos, it is vital that you keep stillness inside of you. Here at Scholars of Finance, there is a tremendous amount of support and guidance through all of this, so do not hesitate to reach out to a member or an executive should you feel lost or defeated—maybe even consider joining our organization in the future. Lean on your family, friends, and mentors as you see fit. It is difficult to overstate the tragedy and disturbance that COVID-19 has brought us, so please know that any fears or concerns you may have are valid, understood, and empathized with. Above all, stay positive and hopeful for the future—your own future, the future of the sick or less fortunate, the future of the economy, and the future of the cities you might call home. As not just a member of Scholars of Finance but a student at NYU Stern, I am incredibly hopeful and optimistic for the greatest city in the world (and others) to beat COVID-19 and to return just a little bit greater.

 

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Tony Ferrara is a member of Scholars of Finance and one of the original Co-Founders at New York University. Tony is currently a freshmen at New York University and is majoring in finance and sustainable business with a minor in public policy at the Stern School of Business.