So far this has been a year of introspection (see Looking Forward, Making Plans). I’ve continued to read a lot and across many fields: business, the economy, personal growth, real estate and science fiction. Integrity is a word that keeps coming up in my reading, in business and in life. From musician Bob Markley to inventor and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, brilliant accomplished people stress the importance of integrity. But what does integrity mean? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides three definitions:
- firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : INCORRUPTIBILITY
- an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS
- the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS
Synonyms for integrity include honesty and honour. The term has an almost old-fashioned ring, evoking Knights of the Round Table and codes of chivalry. I would argue that integrity remains a central value even today, in the twenty-first century.
Integrity is a source of influence for an entrepreneur. People will be drawn to do business with you if you are known as someone who keeps and honours their word. There is power in doing what you promised to do, on time, and in the way it was intended. When assessing your integrity, you first need to be honest with yourself. Examine whether your motivations are for the greater good. As an entrepreneur, you naturally want to create profitable business opportunities, but this should not be done by cutting corners or being dishonest. More opportunities arise through sharing with your community rather than through biased agreements. Think about where your business can create wins for everyone, and this will draw more potential clients and partners to participate.
You should stay true to your business vision, even if there is a personal cost. Be truthful with your clients, even if it means some business is lost. In my case for example, I have been offered contracts outside of my core expertise. In these instances I knew I could have hired a third-party to do the work and marked up the costs, however I felt that if I could not add real value then it would diminish my integrity to accept the work. Instead, I referred people from my network to do the work who had a better match to the skills needed. This kind of approach will build trust and goodwill – both with the potential client and the referred colleagues. Deposits in the bank of integrity are likely to pay more dividends later on for all.
You shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep. Be realistic in estimating the time commitment to complete work the way it should be done. Consider as well that you may not always be able to keep your word if you are taking on business challenges that stretch you to new heights. In this case, acknowledge to everyone impacted that you will not be able to keep your word, and explain clearly how you will deal with the resulting impact. Over the years of juggling the conflicting demands of a growing family and self-employment, I learned that the unexpected does happen. A child gets sick. A car breaks down. My spouse has competing demands. I dealt with those honestly by acknowledging the situation and recognizing that this breakdown had repercussions on my business partners and clients. Afterward, I did everything I could to make amends and prevent such events in the future. Trust is a like a bank account that takes a long time to build up, but can be quickly depleted by careless actions.
We place a high value on integrity, but no one is perfect. We therefore each need to do more than just “talk the talk” – we need to continue to evaluate whether we are putting these principles into action. Or as Confucius said, “I used to take a man at his word and trusted that he would act accordingly. But now I listen to his words and note his actions.” So tell me your story of integrity. Where have you struggled with maintaining integrity? What is your personal code of conduct? What tools do you use to keep your business and personal life “sound and complete”?