The American Heritage Dictionary (1994) defines integrity as the “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code” (p. 436). After interviewing hundreds of highly successful business leaders, William Cohen (1999) discovered that integrity is the most important quality of a successful leader (para. 4). Cohen (1999) goes on to say that integrity means “doing the right thing regardless of circumstances or benefits” (para. 9). When discussing the issue of whistle-blowing, it’s important to keep this definition in mind.
Opponents of whistle-blowing argue that whistle-blowers are disloyal to their companies (Boatright, 2007, p. 98). This very argument requires that would-be whistle-blowers maintain the highest integrity in order to remain above suspicion. Therefore any potential whistle-blower must examine the situation and answer certain basic ethical and moral questions. Questions such as “Is the situation of sufficient moral importance?” and “Do you have all the facts?” can serve as an ethical guide (Boatright, 2007, p. 103). Depending on the answers to these questions, an employee of high integrity has no option other than to blow the whistle.
After conducting extensive interviews, sociologist Myron Glazer found that whistle-blowers tend to be extremely ethical employees who believe they are acting in the best interest of the company (Boatright, 2007, p. 101). Boatright (2007) offers the example of Joseph Rose who reported illegal campaign contributions by officials of Associated Milk Producers Incorporated. Rose felt that it was his duty as a lawyer of the company to notify his superiors of the illegal activities. The reward for Rose’s integrity was immediate dismissal from the company (Boatright, 2007, p. 101). By following the rules of the organization and not going outside normal channels, Rose could defend his loyalty to AMPI and avoid any questions of his integrity.
To be successful, an employee must strive to maintain the highest integrity. Although a whistle-blower has grounds to fear retaliation from the company, maintaining integrity means that he will always be able to stand squarely against his own measure. William Cohen (1999) relates the story of Babe Zacharias who penalized herself two strokes for accidentally playing the wrong ball. When asked why she had taken the penalty since no one would have known, she simply replied, “I would have known” (para. 12).
The American heritage dictionary (3rd ed.). (1994). New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Boatright, J. (2007). Ethics and the conduct of business, 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Cohen, W. (1999). The critical importance of integrity. Canadian Manager, 24. Retrieved June 1, 2008, from Business Source Elite database.