Integrity, a subject that many of us easily talk about but often used to hide our real selves. I will use excerpts from an article I recently read around the subject.
Corporate Integrity: It Starts at the Top
I heard of a story about a gentleman who used to be affiliated with a construction company whose owner ordered the workers to cut corners in every way possible without getting caught. Some foremen were even chastised for taking extra care to do a good job. Did this philosophy work? No. The company did make money, but the employees who took pride in their work went elsewhere, leaving a workforce who simply was not trustworthy and a company which had a shady reputation.
When a new owner set a policy of always doing things right, the company slowly began to grow. Those who continued to cut corners were dismissed and a new vitality began to emerge as the employees felt good about themselves; they began to love their jobs and became proud of who they worked for. Guess what? This company continues to flourish today. Coincidence? I think not.
Individual Integrity: We Are All Accountable
Writer and speaker Nicky Gumble punctuates this truth in the following story:
A man named Gibbo used to work as a clerk for Selfridges. One day the phone rang and Gibbo answered. The caller asked to speak to Gordon Selfridge, who happened to be in the room at the time. When Mr. Selfridge instructed Gibbo to tell the caller that he was out, Gibbo handed him the phone and said, ‘You tell him you’re out!’ Gordon Selfridge was absolutely furious, but Gibbo said to him, ‘Look, if I can lie for you, I can lie to you. And I never will.’ That moment transformed Gibbo’s career at Selfridges – he became the owner’s most trusted employee.
Integrity, for Gibbo, was so deeply ingrained that he disobeyed his boss without hesitation. Yes, he might have been fired, but I am guessing that Gibbo wouldn’t have wanted to continue working there anyway. In this case, however, his integrity was instrumental to his ascent at Selfridges.
Why Integrity Works
It is no surprise that employees with integrity shine. They do not undermine their fellow workers, they work just as hard whether they are being watched or not, they can always be counted on to do their best, and they will be honest enough to admit it if they have made mistakes. They won’t pass the blame, but they will share the credit. They are an inspiration to others, creating a positive and upbeat work environment.
If you were in charge of hiring and networking, wouldn’t you dig beneath the surface of a potential employee’s resume to learn of their integrity? Of course you would. Therefore, if you are that employee, your services will be coveted, both when you are hired and for years thereafter.
How Are You Doing?
- Do you leave work early when there is no possibility anyone else will find out?
- Do you accept full responsibility (or your share) when things don’t go well?
- Do you share the credit when things go right?
- Do you confront wrongdoing, even if it means confronting a Team Leader/Manager?
- Do you hide legitimate income to avoid paying taxes on it (such as not reporting cash payments)?
- Do you claim tax deductions you can’t document?
In leading people, sometimes we forget that what we stand for and how we behave directly influences the people in the system. If you lead people and they don’t trust one another (or worse still, they behave in a way that’s detrimental to individuals and the team), you have no one to blame but yourself.
We have often heard that culture is a collection of believes, values and behaviors that make the way the organization behaves on an aggregated level (if you will). As such, it’s all fun and games for leaders to intellectualize about “how we do things around here” until suddenly it dawns on them that the the sum total of the organisational personality and ways of doing things (or culture if you prefer that) is directly influenced by the quality of leaders that hold the all important responsibility of steering the organisation.
You often find leaders who proudly rephrase and reclassify toxic elements in the system in an effort to legitimize illegitimate outcomes. Just because you call it ability to network, it doesn’t mean gossips are assets for your organisational. Similarly, if your people find it acceptable to create divisions and sow destructive hatred between individuals, you have no one to blame but yourself. You enable this either through your actions (by actively participating in the behaviours) or omission (by allowing the cancer to fester under your watch).
Great leaders understand that technical ability can never replace the ability to work with others. Interestingly, this ability is also the basis for serving customers (both internal and external) and therefore good for business all round.
So, instead of being passive recipients of cultural outcomes, leaders need to study their organizational make up, identify the good elements therein and ensure the good is rewarded and recognized while making it extremely uncomfortable for bad elements. Those terrorizing the organisation through their negative behaviours need to be clear that they are not welcome in the culture. Slowly but surely, organisational culture improves positively for the better in the long term.