"If what I said or did ended up on the front cover of The Wall Street Journal, would I be comfortable with that? Happy it's out there?"
-- Talia Mashiach, CEO of Eved
"What matters is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment."
-- Victor Frankl, neurologist, psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor
In honor of CNBC embarking on its second quarter century, a list of Top 25 Innovators in Business was recently compiled and posted here. I wonder who would have made the list if it were geared towards the top 25 entrepreneurs with integrity and consistent game-changing leadership? We live in the Digital Age, also referred to as the iEra, where opportunities for social and educational leadership and civic engagement can and should be part of one's entrepreneurial DNA, no matter the gender or geographical location. Thanks to social media, we are slowly but surely changing the way we learn, connect, collaborate, view a company's HR policies, and implement a company's marketing campaign.
We are also slowly realizing that despite a plethora of social technology channels and business books available, there is a growing problem. One impacting on our collective ability to build the perfect female role model and replicate it, so that entrepreneurial minded little girls growing up in a culture that is transparent, tech-driven, and all about instant gratification, have whom to turn to for guidance. Whom to admire and emulate.
The lines between integrity of self and integrity of one's digital avatar are steadily blurring, raising questions in entrepreneurship and beyond. Uncomfortable, complicated, yet important questions re: work/life balance, ethics, one's networking, one's collaboration obligations for the greater good, best practices re: client and employee engagement, and how to promote one's overall legacy.
Some variations of these questions were raised at a recent event I attended, The Jewish Women Entrepreneurship Conference, geared towards startup founders from both the service/consulting industry and product/retail industry. This gathering attracted women from all over the USA, who came together to learn, collaborate, and educate; themselves and each other. I learned some psychological and practical tips for better collaboration and mindset from Chicago CEO of the groundbreaking Eved company, Talia Mashiach, whom I quoted above. I learned valuable investor pitching tips from Los Angeles based CTO of Power2B Sarah Lipman. I learned some useful marketing lessons from Baltimore based business coach Deborah Gallant, founder of Bold Business Works.
Most importantly, I again learned and reaffirmed 3 takeaways which I have learned as both an educator and entrepreneur. Three lessons I want to share about the pursuit of integrity; that intangible currency every professional needs, especially in this Digital Age:
1. Integrity is established when one does not separate the behavior from the person.
We see too often with celebrities how one's behavior and speech are blamed on external factors such as the environment, and how fast bad behavior gets noticed online. One's good deeds and careful speech don't go viral as quickly, which is a real shame. A person's behavior and speech are barometers of a person's inner moral and psychological compass, as seen from the racist remarks by Donald Sterling and fallout.
2. Integrity grows when one monitors his/her digital avatar as well as a real-time reputation.
The care and feeding of an entrepreneur today involves managing one's digital reputation. A startup entrepreneur, especially one seeking new clients outside of one's industry, geographical location, or social media "reach" must carefully consider how to use the carefully crafted digital avatar as a mouthpiece to show transparency re: company culture and conduct, to share one's story and brand, and to promote one's causes and passions. This is especially challenging for some millennials entering the workforce or entrepreneurial arena, after having adopted a laissez-faire attitude about recording and posting all manner of photos of themselves, doing all manner of things.
3. Integrity is maintained when one regularly engages in social activism and philanthropy.
We live in a time where becoming globally connected technologically highlights the growing fragmentation of our society psychologically and economically. The growing rift between the "have" and "have nots" and between the educated and uneducated is hurtling us towards increased violence world-wide. When girls are educated, the whole world wins. When women are successful financially, countries enjoy a better economy and better quality of life. It's something to ponder and then act on, individually and collectively, in light of the recent kidnappings of the girls in Nigeria. Civic engagement, social reform, and the pursuit of integrity is one's humanitarian duty; not just a reason for a tax write off or entrepreneurial pivot. Maintaining integrity needs to be one of the life long learning processes of every human being, now more than ever.
It is important for women entrepreneurs in particular to be mindful of their integrity currency when carving a space for themselves online. Why? Because the reality is that a female entrepreneur is an ambassador and example for the collective, more so than her male counterpart. A woman in entrepreneurship who steps out onto the world stage and has a social media presence is sending an overt and covert message (depending on style, content, and platform), maybe several, to all children and all women around the globe looking for guidance in thought, deed, conduct, and the current economic, social, and political climate they find themselves in.