Integrity and the Cowboy CEO

The other day, I had the chance to meet with one of our client CEOs, Fred A. Brown. He’s not what I would call a ‘typical’ founder/CEO – mostly because he’s a cowboy. Not the shoot first, aim later type, but the guy who is recognized as a world-ranked calf roper, and knows what it means to grow up on a ranch, and what happens when you need your neighbors.

He talks a lot about integrity. About not skirting the truth just because it’s easier. About doing what you say you’re going to do. And somehow, it doesn’t sound like he’s slinging it.

On the other hand, all you have to do is look at most companies’ ‘vision statements’ – and integrity usually pops up pretty quickly. Pretty soon, we’re going to start to hear even more from much slicker voices about how they have integrity, live for integrity, and will plaster it on their corporate walls and business cards.

Why? Because of a simple little measurement tic I use almost every day: counting media, and seeing how much digital space is given over to what seem like disconnected topics.

Today, for instance, the top three stories in Boston involved a state-run drug testing lab that was running crooked tests for years (and which has already prompted 11 guys doing time to get out of jail free), seafood distributors ‘accidentally’ loading their product with ice, to conveniently bulk up the weight, and a local community college that was defrauding just about everyone while the administrators got fat.

I know, this could be any day, in any town.

But about 30 years ago, I had the chance to hang around with a guy named John Naisbitt, who was just starting the seeds of his research into predicting societal shifts. How did he do it? Surprisingly simply: He counted lines of coverage in newspapers all over the country. The more coverage, the more it would become a socially relevant ‘megatrend.’

A few years ago, it was ‘authenticity.’  Fortunately, all those ‘authentic’ CEOs have moved away from that echo chamber. (Fads move on.) So my money’s on integrity, which still has meaning. For now. And for our CEO client, who really lives it.