The topic of this newsletter came to mind as I watch the optics of recent actions by my former employer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. As I read the many LinkedIn comments from fellow retired agents, the one commonality came to mind was that we all started in the “Louis Freeh Bureau.” When I started the FBI academy in April 1997, the first instruction was on the bureau’s “bright line” policy. The policy essentially stated there was a zero tolerance of deceitful behavior. Freeh Unveils Tough FBI Conduct Rules : Law enforcement: Guidelines might have resulted in dismissal of previous director. Agent applicants to take drug use lie-detector tests. – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
As a new agent, I routinely heard the statement, “in the FBI, there is no such thing as big lies or little lies, just lies. You lie, goodbye.” An employee who was found culpable related to lack of candor was shown the door. That culture of doing the right things for the right reasons and never lying stayed with me throughout my career. I was even told by a supervisor late in my career that I was “too candid and too transparent.” I resisted management’s pressure to obfuscate understanding integrity is the brand. Some agents were great at getting promoted, I prided myself on being great at telling the uncomfortable truth. The truth is your best friend, it will never change or stab you in the back. Management may not have appreciated my candor but my customer, the U.S. Attorney’s office, did. The Assistant U.S. Attorney’s (AUSA) could trust that I always gave them the straight facts, even if it harmed the case. The FBI’s “bright line” policy ended with Louie Freeh’s departure and was replaced with the “aggravating factors” standard. The new standard differentiated between little lies and big lies. That was the FBI’s choice, I never have or will deviate from my own “bright line.”
Transitioning to the private sector led me to have an even greater appreciation of “integrity as your brand.” Being in the Investigations and Executive Protection space, I am amazed at the quality among EP agents and Private Investigators. I am equally amazed at the number of charlatans and corner cutters. Companies not committed to “integrity as your brand” present “happy talk” to prospective clients with no follow through. Integrity is not just adhering to moral conduct but also under promising and over delivering. Managing a client’s expectations with honest feedback maintains your brand of integrity. Integrity as your brand is the competitive advantage as trust is the foundation of all business transactions.
Consistency is the true foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or do not make them.” – Roy T. Bennett
One thing that did not change through my years in the FBI was the sensitivity to social media. Even though the concept of social media did not take hold until mid-2000’s, the working agents understood that an ill worded email or a comment overheard by the wrong person could lead to suspension or termination. I always told the new agents, get off social media and never use the on-site gym. Nothing good ever happened at either of those places. Fast forward to after 2010 and I would watch defense attorneys’ routinely query agent’s social media feeds looking for evidence of bias or prior misconduct. Often the best defense was attacking the process and the accusers and not the evidence. The AUSA’s themselves would do a Google search of agents to make sure they did not have skeletons to be displayed to juries. Regarding personal reputation, I vividly remember an incident involving an agent who posted Halloween pictures of himself on Myspace dressed as a pirate. The next day, the agent came into the office to see approximately 20 printouts of his Myspace pirate photos posted all over the squad area. He transferred offices shortly thereafter as he became an office punchline. Posting pictures of yourself partying or vacationing on Facebook may assuage your own narcissism. However, before you post your party photos, ask yourself “what brand does this portray.” If you are serious about growing your business, everything you post on social media must support the concept of “Integrity as your brand,” which includes showing you are a serious problem solver and good citizen. Everything you say can be used against you. Everything you write (or post) WILL be used against you. Show good judgement and understand the only opinions you want people to have are of your work product and not your choice of scotch.
Another common quote I heard and used in the FBI was, “because you CAN does not mean you SHOULD.” Pitching a client because it will generate residual income without first thinking about fulfillment is a disaster waiting to happen. Costco and Sam’s often have small vendors pitch their products. However, the first question asked is “tell me about your cash flow.” Costco and Sam’s avoid the “death hug” by determining a large dollar purchase order won’t crush a small vendor who does not have the cash flow to cover the purchase of raw materials. The same can be said of EP projects that need significant resources. Can the EP vendor cover payroll and what is their level of quality control? Simply stated, “integrity as your brand” starts with being honest with yourself on whether to can reasonably fulfill the order.
Having a reputation of integrity takes many years to cultivate and accomplish. I have seen over the course of six years the decisions of very few employees at the FBI harmed the agency’s reputation that was cultivated over the last 100 years. One “little lie” leading to a poorly executed investigation or underperformed EP project as well as an ill worded tweet or silly picture posted on Facebook will destroy your reputation and end your business.
The EP and Private Investigation community is very small. Good news travels fast, Facebook pictures of you dressed as a pirate travel much faster.