Mongolian Integrity

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Part of my grueling schedule of work, school, and Internet repair this week has been leading four days of strategy sessions with key members of our TV staff. We are in the process of evaluating the strengths and weakness of all programs and marketing. Our objective over the next few days is to completely reshape our TV operations in keeping with the higher level of competition in the marketplace.

My role has been training and coaching the team through the process of Mission, Goals, Strategy, and Tactics. I’ve truly enjoyed this role as I think it allows me to use my strengths with the staff as opposed to a top-down approach of strategy development and management. In fact, the more I’ve stepped back and listened, the more I’ve learned, and the more ownership our staff takes in our new direction. I couldn’t be happier.

Yesterday as we were closing out our session, an interesting and sometimes heated discussion took place that grabbed my attention like nothing else for the last three days. We were discussing our marketing strategy for domestic news programming and the creation of sponsorable packages to better serve clients. A disagreement ensued between me and…uh…everybody…about a specific form of sponsorship for a certain news segment. I was advocating for a particular tactic, but the look I got from the staff said, “What are you? Nuts?”

One of the staff rolled off something to the effect of, “You might be able to do that in the States, but you can’t do that here. We have to protect the integrity of our news. We can’t be like the other stations. We can’t resort to selling our news stories. This is Eagle. We’re Mongolian. We have to have integrity.” Universally, around the room, everyone vigorously nodded in ascent.

Now my American-born, never-been-to-Mongolia, living-in-America readers will read the preceding paragraph and say, “So? What’s the big deal about that?” But my Mongolian and foreign readers living in Mongolia should immediately see the significance.
This staff member equated being Mongolian with having integrity.

I do a double-take even as I think about it and wonder, when did that happen? You see, I’ve been here five years and all I’ve ever heard from Mongolians about integrity is that lying is a way of life, that its normal—so much so that it’s not a big deal. I’ve dealt with numerous politicians, business people, humanitarians, staff, friends, and on many occasions this simple statement has been repeated to me—by Mongols—over and over: “Mongolians always lie.”

Then yesterday I stood dumbfounded to have a room full of Mongolians (people I’ve known for three to five years) look me square in the face and equate being Mongolian with living with integrity. Bam. Boom. Something has gone really right and I’m liking it. I’m liking it a lot.

My next reaction was to back down from my position. I don’t think that my position was a compromise of our organizational integrity. But that’s not the point. Our staff perceived it as a compromise of integrity. That was good enough for me.

I’ve taught again and again that integrity is not simply avoiding wrong and doing right, but integrity goes deeper to avoiding even the appearance of evil. It is also proactive in doing the right thing. In other words, integrity doesn’t wait to respond to circumstances to exercise itself. Integrity is proactive, seeking to intentionally do the right thing before the wrong thing even becomes an opportunity. What I saw yesterday was a “got it” moment from the staff and an “I don’t get it” moment from me (!).
There’s only one word for that.

Whoa.

I’m back in another strategy session in about an hour. I can’t wait to find out what else I need to learn from this team.

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