Setting the Bar

By John Blumberg, Andersen Alumnus and author of Return On Integrity (

I used to cringe a bit when asked a question to which I didn’t know the answer. During the period when I was writing the manuscript for Return On Integrity, I was asked a number of questions to which I had no answer. It comes with the territory when trying to explore old concepts in fresh new ways. I’d like to think it was these questions, rather than procrastination, that turned my intended one-year project of writing the book into a four-year journey.

Following the publication of the book, I anticipated … and eventually desired … that these kinds of questions would not only continue, yet increase. For these questions surface from a reader’s engagement. Questions are not always in search of answers. Rather, they are an invitation to exploration and reflection if you allow them. A couple of weeks ago I was asked one of these questions towards the end of my presentation:

So, who gets to set the bar on integrity?

It’s a good question … a question far more in search of exploration than explanation. It could also be an unintended search for an easy solution to an otherwise far more adventurous insight to integrity.

Setting a bar for integrity has more to do with compliance than realizing the full potential of core values. In other words, if someone can just tell us the standard to meet then integrity becomes just another measure of our performance. This is not to say that compliance is not important … it has its place. It just should not be confused with integrity. Compliance can be a great data point and provide some wonderful teachable moments. Yet, integrity is something different.

There are three words that surface within the definition of integrity that can be quite useful:

Whole. Entire. Undiminished.

You might think of this as “integrated.” Integrity is not a measuring stick (or bar) … it is a state of being. A condition. Rather than being measured from without, it is created from within. Outward signs of measurement do little for us without intentionally connecting to an inner compass.

You might also think of this integrated state of being as a state of flow. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of the University of Chicago, established the importance of “flow” in his best-selling book by the same title. I would suggest that flow is established when we are in a state of integrity … where all is integrated. This is true individually … and is just as true collectively in an organization. An individual not in this state of flow can become a clot in the collective flow of an organization.

In an organization, the individual flow has to converge into a collective flow of shared organizational values. It is not possible to think of this individual flow or collective flow as separate from each other. They are intrinsically connected for as long as they are together. And any vision, mission, strategy or measurement is accountable to that flow.

Not the other way around.

In this state of accountability … vision, mission, strategy, measurement and every individual are well served. Yet, the flow of this collective river always begins individually from within. There is no bar that can ever be set to replace the height or depth to which this collective flow can reach … whether it is the geysers of Yellowstone or Niagara Falls.

John G. Blumberg is an Andersen Alumni, a national speaker and author of several books including his just released book, Return On Integrity: The New Definition of ROI and Why Leaders Need to Know It. It is available on Amazon and at major bookstores. You can connect with John at