Today I am publishing my second annual Integrity Report.
The main purpose of my Integrity Report is to document the steps I’m taking to set a higher standard in my work, lead with honesty, and build a business that serves first. Integrity is one of those qualities that is easy to talk about, but much harder to live out on a day-to-day basis. My hope is that this report provides a reason for me to revisit my core values each year and consider if I have been living by them.
There are 3 main questions that I will answer in this Integrity Report. (You are welcome to replicate these questions for your own Integrity Report.)
- What are the core values that drive my life and work?
- How am I living and working with integrity right now?
- How can I set a higher standard in the future?
Here we go…
1. What are the core values that drive my life?
Here are my core values and some questions that I use to think more deeply about each area. There are some slight changes from last year.
Growth (Learning, Adventure, Habits)
- Am I learning new things and exploring new places?
- Am I questioning my limiting beliefs and trying to overcome them?
- Am I building habits that lead to continual improvement?
Self-Respect (Authenticity, Balance, Happiness)
- Am I living a balanced life?
- Am I living authentically?
- Am I giving myself permission to be happy with where I am right now?
Resiliency (Strength, Preparedness, Toughness)
- Am I mentally and physically strong?
- Am I prepared for unexpected challenges?
- Am I actively working to overcome the challenges in my life?
Servant Leadership (Contribution, Dependability, Generosity)
- Am I contributing to the world or just consuming it?
- Am I someone others can count on?
- Am I giving the credit to others?
These are just my core values, of course. Yours may be different. I put together a list of common core values, if you want some ideas for your own Integrity Report.
2. How am I living and working with integrity now?
Here are some choices that I have made during the last year that, I think, have helped me live and work with more integrity. I plan to continue my effort in each of these areas.
Sticking to my word. As regular readers know, I publish new articles every Monday and Thursday. That's the schedule. That's the expectation. And I stick to it. (Obviously, I reserve the right to change my schedule if I wish, but no matter what expectations I set you can count on me to stick to them.) 1
Maintaining editorial integrity. As of March 2015, my website receives over 500,000 visitors each month. Unlike nearly every other website of that size, I don't accept advertisements or sponsors. I want your reading experience to be as good as it can possibly be and I am committed to not selling your attention to outside businesses. I lose money because of this strategy in the short-run, but I maintain editorial integrity and hopefully gain your trust in the long-run.
No strong sales pitches. I am beginning to expand the business side of www.littleguydistributing.com this year with seminars, speaking engagements, and my first book. That said, I never want anyone to feel pressured to buy from me. When I have something to sell, I’ll tell you about it, but I want you to buy because you believe in the products and the way I do things, not because I'm hammering you over the head with a sales pitch.
Giving all the credit away. In my experience, there are no original ideas. We all get inspiration from others and that's just fine if we do it in the right way. As author Austin Kleon writes, “Creative theft can be incredibly positive, so long as it's honoring instead of degrading, crediting rather than plagiarizing, and transforming instead of intimidating.”
This is how I like to think of my work: I discover brilliant ideas from a wide range of successful people, add in lessons I've learned from personal experience, back it up with scientific research, and blend it all together into an article that is (hopefully) useful and practical for others. I suppose you could say this is my unique style, but really it's just made up of bits and pieces that I learned from others.
Here are some ways I have given credit away during the past 12 months:
- I added references to a Sources section at the bottom of my articles (example).
- I recently added pop-up footnotes so that sources can display inline as you are reading and not just at the bottom of the post (only works when reading on www.littleguydistributing.com)
- I have begun crediting not just the image source, but also the original photographer for any outside images that I use (example).
- I added a Thank You page where I publicly acknowledge the individuals who have influenced my life and work in bigger ways.
I’m proud of the work I create, but I couldn’t do it without the help of others. Life is so much better when you give all the credit away.
Using more inclusive language and storytelling in my articles. This was one of the areas I listed for improvement in my 2014 Integrity Report and I improved it! During the past year, I have written about inspiring black women (here and here), people dealing with schizophrenia and mental illness (here), famous female artists (here and here), forgotten female artists (here), Swedish entrepreneurs (here), professional athletes (here and here), ancient Greek heroes and Japanese Samurai warriors (here and here), and, of course, a few white dudes (here, here, and here).
As of March 2015, our community includes more than 140,000 people from over 100 countries. We are not limited to any individual status, race, gender, or background. I believe my writing should reflect that.
3. How can I set a higher standard in the future?
Now for the hard part. Where am I slacking and how can I set a higher standard over the next 12 months?
Write about long-standing principles. Some ideas are fleeting (think: your standard news cycle of hot-button issues) while other topics stand the test of time (think: true wisdom and timeless life lessons). I already skew toward writing about topics that stand the test of time, but I think I can do even better. What are the core issues that are central to living a good life? How can I focus on those questions in a practical way? I believe it is important to avoid playing to the lowest common denominator and publishing shallow articles with little depth of thought and few practical applications.
Stop acting like a victim and get ahead of schedule. Earlier in this article, I praised myself for sticking to my Monday–Thursday writing schedule … and I do stick to it. But nearly every article I publish is written that day. I have many lame excuses for why I'm not ahead with my writing. (“There’s so much else to do with the business.” Or, “My inbox is a disaster.” Or, “I’m always working on important things, so it’s not really procrastination.”) The truth is that I need to stop acting like this is out of my control. I have built a consistent habit, but I have not developed a philosophy of preparedness with my writing. That's a problem because resiliency is one of my core values.
Communicate faster. Show up earlier. I don't reply fast enough via email and I'm often arriving just in the nick of time (read: 5 minutes late) because I try to cram too much into too little time. Well, it's time to get over that stuff. I get too many emails to handle myself, which means that I need to develop a better system for dealing with it rather than blaming the problem. Furthermore, I control my schedule each day and that means I have the power to schedule enough time between tasks.
Hire, hire, hire. Last year, I said that I needed a coach because it was hard to hold myself accountable with certain business tasks. Well, I hired one and it is helping. Now, I need to hire a fantastic executive assistant (someone with killer writing and organizational skills) to keep me on track as well as an amazing researcher–editor who would take joy in finding compelling scientific research and improving the quality of my articles. I'm still trying to play superhero and do it all myself.
Make my work more accessible. There are a variety of ways I can spread my message to an even larger community. What about reading my articles in audio format and publishing it as a podcast? People could listen on the go and the audio would accommodate blind members of our community. Or, I could have readers translate my articles into different languages. Offering my articles in Chinese alone would result in a massive new segment of people who could be reached. 2
Question my limiting beliefs. I wasn't expecting it when I started, but entrepreneurship is an incredible process of personal growth. Simply put, we all have mental barriers and limiting beliefs that we need to get over. If you're serious about building a business that reaches a lot of people, then you need to get over yourself, check your ego at the door, and realize that all of the excuses you keep parading around in your head each day are just well-dressed lies. I've made some progress in this area, but I have a long way to go.
The Bottom Line
In my experience, catastrophic lapses of integrity are rare. The problems usually occur when we convince ourselves to make a series of small exceptions or “just this once” choices. After a while, the little exceptions add up and you find yourself in a place you would normally avoid.
The purpose of this report is to hold myself accountable to those small errors, avoid the tiny lapses in judgment, and ask questions that will help me raise the bar. I still have a long way to go, but if I can maintain the things that are going well and commit to one or two areas of improvement, then I should be able to deliver an even higher quality of work to you each week.
In the meantime, thanks for reading and being part of our worldwide family. It’s an honor to share my thoughts and ideas with you.
As my business expands, there is one strategy that makes commitments like these possible: say no more often. It's hard to do and I'm still getting better at it, but it is much easier to stick with your commitments if you don't get over-extended.
This is probably a project for later this year, but I would love to offer versions of my articles in Arabic, French, German, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish. If you are a reader and interested in helping translate my articles for a project like that, then contact me.