A recent national news item outlined the story of a senior manager who received a suspended jail sentence because he lied on his CV.  He falsely claimed to have a University Degree (which as it happened was not even required for the post) and the Judge in summing up said that this action brought into question the individuals integrity.  The managers actions certainly brought into question his honesty, but did he really lack integrity?

Integrity is a word that frequently crops up on LinkedIn profiles and on company websites.  In an effort to stand out from the crowd, brands and individuals sometimes feel it necessary to highlight their ‘integrity’.  However it is a word often misunderstood – and sometimes overused by those who lack it.  It is usually associated with being of good character, being honest and being ethical – but it is really more about being consistent.

I experienced a perfect example of integrity at a supermarket checkout.

A young man came back to the store in order to return a small over payment of change from a transaction that had taken place a few minutes earlier.  A customer services manager was called over and she thanked the young man for his ‘unusual’ honesty.  ‘Normally’ she said ‘as a big company our business is seen as fair game and if we make a mistake in the customer’s favour we tend to lose out’.

As he left the store, I managed to speak with the young man and asked him why he returned such a small amount of change – ‘after all’ I said ‘no one would have known if you’d just driven off’.  There was a short pause then he looked me in the eyes and said ‘I would have known’.  He went on to tell me it was about doing the right thing – one of the values he learned as an officer in the Royal Marines. Having spent time studying leadership at the Royal Marine Commando Training Centre at Lympstone in Devon – I knew instantly what he meant.

Not always positive 

The young Royal Marine wasn’t demonstrating integrity because he was being honest.  ‘Integrity’ doesn’t necessarily mean positive characteristics like honesty and trust.  That definition is only relevant in the context of what we might think of as ethical or moral behaviour.

The Latin root of the word integrity is ‘integer’ – to be whole or complete.

Having integrity is about consistency – consistency of values, principles – and more importantly acting in accordance with those values and principles.  The young Royal Marine acted in accordance with his values and principles – even when only he knew he was doing it.

Even street gangs and criminals can have integrity. In terms of ethics it’s just that their values and principles are different from most people in business.  Have no doubt that they do have a ‘code’ – principles and values that they adhere to – and the penalty for lacking integrity can be severe!

“In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy.  If they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” – Warren Buffet, CEO Berkshire Hathaway

If any relationship is to thrive, whether internal or external (or personal for that matter) there has to be congruence between the words that set the expectation of certain values and the actions someone demonstrates.  When you actions match you intentions, when others EXPERIENCE that you live your values and stick to your principles, whatever the circumstance, it builds trust and relationships blossom.  Customers, clients, colleagues, suppliers, people who you report to and people who report to you want to know that they can trust you.  People leave an organisation when they don’t trust their manager, employees are fired when trust is lost and customers stop buying from suppliers that fail to deliver on promises.

Integrity in business, based on sound values and principles; trust, honesty, ethics, doing the right thing – builds loyalty, engagement and high performance from individuals and teams. It builds long term profitable relationships with clients and customers that buy and re-buy.

Integrity = Influence

If you want real influence, if you want to lead others or win business; integrity has to be a key characteristic of who you are. You can’t fake integrity (well not for long) and we all know people who don’t live up to the expectations they set – particularly those who push their apparent integrity as a marketing tool.  Successful individuals base the decisions they make on principles. They consistently do the right thing rather than the convenient, easy or popular thing to do. Because they base their actions on values and principles they are trusted to consistently deliver as promised.

“There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity”. Tom Peters

Human beings excel when allowed to act in accordance with their personal values. Ultimately people leave organisations where their own values and the values of the organisation differ (or worse – they stay and disengage).  Whilst having integrity doesn’t necessarily mean an individual is a ‘good’ person, it does mean they can be depended on to act in accordance with the values they claim to live by.

Organisations need more people that can be depended on to act in accordance with the values they claim to live by.

David Tovey