The Black and White of Integrity

Integrity is a black or white issue: either you have it or you don’t. In research I did with executives and business owners at least half of the group rated personal and business integrity as crucial. They feel it is essential to the way they operate and to the credibility and success they have achieved in their career.

So what is integrity? According to Nathaniel Brandon in his book The Six Pillars of Self Esteem, integrity is the “integration of ideals, convictions, standards, beliefs and behaviour”. We demonstrate our values when our behaviour is congruent with our declared values and when our principles and behaviour match.

The men interviewed provided various examples illustrating ethics: One senior manager left a company because he was unable to relate to the way in which the company did business. He was concerned for his reputation. Another executive left a company because he disliked the underhanded way in which management dealt with a merger.

One executive said he sensed that political games were being played at executive level at times. He was aware of “political” people, but ignored them and chose not to waste energy on politics. He never became demotivated due to internal politics.  Trust, integrity and respect were important values at the company he worked and he found that most of his peers and seniors lived by that.

Several men commented that they chose to remain true to themselves. Going against their gut feel or doing something that was against their value system inevitably led to regret or inner dissatisfaction. One retired MD believes strongly that the ego strips away at integrity.

Personal integrity is about questions like: Am I honest, reliable, and trustworthy? Do I keep promises? Do I do the things I admire and do I avoid those I deplore? Am I fair and just in my dealings with others?

In essence, good morals means congruence between our word and actions. It is about being honest and trustworthy, and consistent in our behaviour. Integrity is value driven. It is a moral compass. It is about ethical and impeccable behaviour. It essentially reflects our own belief system.

The head of a compliance unit commented that he found it quite amusing that an advertisement for a legal advisor at another company, indicated that they were looking for a candidate with a “measure” of integrity. In his view having sound principles is a matter of black or white: you either have them or you lack them. There are no degrees of integrity.

In business, executives and business owners are often challenged to take some moral stand on issues. If you find yourself facing uncomfortable decisions Contact me  to help you explore and gain clarity on decisions that could affect your or your company’s reputation.

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