Integrity – a very precious possession

Integrity is a delicate jewel. It takes years to build, and only a few seconds to destroy.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

The ANC is losing followers. One survey has found that its support is 10% down on 2009. On television coverage of the upcoming election, we see ANC supporters lamenting the state of the government and yearning for the days when Mandela’s values prevailed. There are many reasons for this decline, but in the end it boils down to one thing: integrity.

READ:Ignore it, and pay the price

Integrity is more than being honest. It means doing the right thing at all times, whether anyone is watching or not. It is a particular quality of character that has a person declaring a principle or value and sticking to it regardless. People of integrity do what they say, even if it means they stand to lose in the process.

The word is derived from the Latin integritas, meaning ‘wholeness, completeness’. Definitions of integrity include concepts such as ‘soundness’, ‘correctness’, ‘blamelessness’, ‘honour’, ‘morality’ and ‘sincerity’. Integrity is all of these things and more. But, in the end, it leads to that most important of all leadership qualities: trustworthiness.  The value of trust cannot be measured.

Investors who trust an entrepreneur will be willing to put their money into the venture. Employees who trust a manager will follow his guidance and accept additional responsibilities. Customers who trust a company will buy its products and services. Integrity, and the trust that shadows it, means that people will always be willing to go the extra mile to support you – because they know you will never let them down.

Take care, though. Integrity is a delicate jewel. It takes years to build a reputation for integrity, but only a second of bad judgement to destroy it.

Find it in others
Never ever allow yourself to do anything that will damage your integrity. And a word of advice from investment guru Warren Buffet, one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time:

“Avoid those who are not trustworthy. Do not do business with them. Do not associate with them. Do not make excuses for them.

“Do not allow yourself to believe that while they are dishonest with others, they will never be dishonest with you. If someone is dishonest in any aspect of his life, you can be guaranteed that he will be dishonest in many aspects of his life.”

How true. If you associate with people who are dishonest and cut corners to get ahead, you’ll find yourself tempted to do the same. If you want to build a reputation as a person of integrity, then surround yourself with people of integrity.

To quote Warren Buffet once again: “In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy.” Note which is mentioned first.

Test yourself right now
You don’t have to guess about anyone’s integrity. A number of psychometric tests are available to evaluate a prospective employee’s levels of integrity. But what about you? Do you practise what you preach? Are you a person of integrity?

Here are a few simple tests to gauge your own level of integrity:

  • You come across a website that details simple ways of cheating on your income taxes. Do you study it?
  • You walk out of a store with a small piece of merchandise that you forgot to pay for. Do you go back? 
  • You buy a new laptop pre-loaded with word processing software you don’t like. A computer- savvy friend offers to load a pirated version of the software you prefer. Do you let him? 
  • You’re sitting in a committee meeting discussing an issue where the decision taken will benefit you personally. 
  • Do you declare your conflict of interest and desist from persuading the committee to choose the option that would suit you and perhaps not the organisation? 
  • Retaining confidentiality is a prime component of integrity. Have you ever disclosed to others information that was conveyed to you in confidence, no matter how unimportant it might have seemed to you?
  • Have you ever bad-mouthed the competition in public, whether or not you believe your criticisms were justified? 
  • Have you always practised sound safety, health and environmental standards in your organisation and never blind-eyed any deviations in the interests of economy? 

Protect your integrity
If you have been able to answer an emphatic ‘no’ to all the questions listed above, you are a person of integrity.
Protect it with all the energy you have as it is your most precious possession. Success will come and go, but integrity is forever.

This articl was originally published in the 25 April 2014 issue of Farmers Weekly.