Integrity has been defined as ‘honesty, soundness, uprightness, true to self or stated values, beliefs, or ethics’. Success will come when employees and customers respect an organisation for its integrity and that integrity will be reflected in its leadership and management. Image is what people think we are; integrity is what we really are. Indecision over matters of ethics can be fatal for individuals and organisations. The following considerations will help clarify your thinking…
1. Develop moral courage.
With moral courage, you will be capable of standing up for what you know to be right, doing the right thing regardless of the consequences, and accepting the blame when you are in the wrong. You will be respected by all if you have strong moral courage. Indeed, it is the very foundation on which integrity rests.
2. Practise truthfulness and honesty at all times.
Unless you are honest, you cannot be relied on at all. If you get caught out by your staff or colleagues misrepresenting the facts or covering up a problem, you will lose credibility instantly. Credibility is never easy to repair or regain.
Guard against white lies, too: they often are the crack in the dam wall. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should insult or hurt a person by telling the truth – if you can say nothing good about a person, it’s best to say nothing at all.
3. Take a stand for what you believe is morally right.
Never compromise your high moral standards; never prostitute your principles. Have the courage of your convictions, for your stance in a situation where a tough decision is required can point the way for an entire group. General Norman Schwarzkopf talks about leadership and his Rule 14: ‘Do what’s right.’
4. Practise what you preach.
Make sure your behaviour mirrors your professional attitudes and the high standards laid down by others. You must also follow the rules of your organisation. If you tell your staff to do as you tell them to do, they won’t listen if your own actions are different from your words. They’ll do as you do or they’ll do as they want. Practise what you preach.
5. Don’t abuse the privileges of your position.
If you divert any of the managerial resources at your disposal for personal gain, you’re risking your reputation and your position. The simple act of having your office secretary type a letter to your brother to organise your family vacation reveals how easily company resources can be abused people (you and your secretary, both paid by the company), materials (company stationery and a stamp), facilities (use of office facilities), time (yours and your secretary’s), and money (the company pays for salaries, facilities, and materials). Petty abuses can so easily lead to much more serious transgressions, such as nepotism, falsifying accounts, padding expense claims, cheating, back-stabbing, disloyalty, or theft of office supplies and equipment. Remember, our personal values become the navigating system that guides us through the seas of temptation.
6. Make no promise you cannot keep.
If you know you can’t live up to your promises, don’t make them. You must be as good as your word, and your word must be as good as your bond.
7. Accept the blame when you are wrong.
It’s very hard to criticise a person when that person admits being in the wrong and, when at fault, accepts the blame without question. When you foul up, admit it. Don’t try to look for scape-goats, rationalise away your mistakes, or sulk. And never lie. Remember, one lie always seems to lead to another, to another, to another…
8. Know why it’s important.
It’s essential to understand why integrity is so important for someone in a position of leadership:
- It builds trust. When people know you are not using your position for personal gain or at their expense, you’ll gain their trust, confidence, loyalty, and whole-hearted support.
- It influences others. As Emerson said: ‘Every great institution is the lengthened shadow of a single man. His character determines the character of the organisation.’
- It builds for you a reputation, not just an image. Regrettably, some of us work harder on our outside than our inside – forgetting that ‘image promises much but produces little; integrity never disappoints’, as Thomas Macauley wrote.
- It creates high standards.Your own integrity in the workplace will set a positive example for all to follow. By your actions alone, you can inspire your staff to reach your high standards. People do what people see.
- It helps you live with yourself. You’ll be able to sleep at night.
- It doesn’t have to be advertised. Integrity is visible in everything you do and soon becomes common knowledge to everyone.
Finally, if you’re ever tempted to compromise – as no doubt you will be, always place honour, a sense of duty and moral values above all else. If you do that, you cannot possibly fail yourself, your family, your colleagues, or your organisation.