Intentional Integrity: Why It’s Profitable to Do the Right Thing

Intentional Integrity: Why It’s Profitable to Do the Right Thing

Evolving Industry

Intentional integrity isn’t just a moral imperative but the very foundation of successful businesses.

In a time when consumers demand transparency, how leaders juggle ambitious goals while maintaining the moral high ground can define a company’s legacy. 

Rob Chesnut, author of Intentional Integrity, shared his valuable insights on this topic. With 35-plus years of legal experience in the public and private sectors, Rob offered critical lessons in why corporations doing the right thing isn’t just moral — it’s smart.

Rob talked with us about:

  • The dangers of not blending business goals with integrity
  • Trending visibility and anticipating problems before they happen
  • Why your legal team needs to be involved in the business

The Pitfalls of Number-Driven Leadership

Rob stressed that while setting strategic goals is essential, an overemphasis on numbers can lead companies astray.

"Leadership today is about more than just the bottom line. You’ve also got to navigate a pretty tricky set of circumstances when it comes to integrity," he remarked. 

He mentioned the concept of "the number on the wall," a seductive trap where companies focus too intensely on hitting specific numerical goals, often at the expense of ethical considerations.

To clarify, Rob alluded to his first month with Airbnb when the pursuit of "200 million nights" in a year led to overlooking guest complaints about host quality.

When he confronted the team responsible for host services, their rationalization justified his concerns.

“I said, ‘Why is this host on the site? They’re really providing a bad experience to our guests. This is the sort of thing that can kill the business,” he recounted. “I’ll never forget it. The person looked at me and said, ‘Rob, you’re right. The problem is we’ve got to hit 200 million nights, and even a bad night is still a night.”

Rob said scenarios like these underscore the dangers of allowing quantitative goals to dictate business practices without considering the ethical implications. 

“Numbers are great,” Rob said. “But numbers can also lead you down a bad path if they’re in isolation and no leader is actually talking about doing the right thing and operating with integrity."


Be Proactive With Ethical Concerns

Rob advocated for a proactive approach to integrity, suggesting that companies must anticipate problems before they manifest. 

He again reflected on his time at Airbnb, recounting their response to discrimination issues on their platform. After doing his legal due diligence, he approached the company’s co-founder, Brian Chesky, to discuss the issue.

"I start going through the law with him, and Brian holds up his hand and says, ‘Rob, stop. I don't care,” Rob said. “If this sort of thing is really happening on our platform, Rob, we’re failing as a company, and I don’t care what the numbers say." 

This kind of stance is pivotal in shifting corporate culture towards a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to integrity. 

“You've got to think long-term,” Rob stated. “You've got to think about doing the right thing, particularly in today's environment — doing the right thing and believing that it will ultimately pay off for you. And I think it often does.”


Legal Teams Should Be Involved in Business Decisions Early

Giving in-house legal teams a seat at the table during business processes is another cornerstone of Rob's philosophy.

“The worst setup is [when] the business comes up with the product, comes up with the solution, and then [is] like, ‘We just need to get this stamp of approval from legal, and then it's a go,’” he lamented.  

Instead, he believes that legal teams should be “thought partners” rather than last-minute checkpoints — once they’ve proven they belong.

"It's on legal to get there. You earn a spot at the table. I know we are doing things right when  the business wants legal at the meeting.”

This early involvement ensures that companies navigate complex regulatory issues more effectively. As a bonus, it fosters a collaborative relationship that enhances business outcomes. 

“For example, at Airbnb, the lawyers would actually sit with the different business units that they supported two or three days a week,” Rob said. “You're having conversations, and you become a part of the team that builds the business.”

This approach not only streamlines business operations but also embeds a culture of compliance and integrity from the word “go.”

“Ultimately, if you're an in-house lawyer, you're still a business person,” Rob said. “Your goal is business success. You are just contributing through the lens of someone with legal training.”


Craving more? You can find this interview and many more by subscribing to Evolving Industry on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or here.

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