Why does integrity matter?

Integrity is a vital part of the culture and values of a company. Integrity is often mentioned as one of the most respectable aspects of human behavior. It is commonly agreed that it is not possible to achieve sustainable success without integrity. But what does integrity mean within a leadership context? What distinguishes behavior with integrity from the one without?
Warren Buffett said: “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligenceenergy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two. I tell them: Everyone here has the intelligence and energy; you wouldn’t be here otherwise. But the integrity is up to you. You weren’t born with it, you can’t learn it in school.”
Integrity is about being true to yourself and to the social context in which you operate.
Integrity is about actions matching words, and those words being intellectually honest. Integrity is not about good or bad; it is about transparent consistency. It is standing for your convictions whether others agree or not, both when they are looking and when they are not.

Nature epitomizes integrity. Whatever happens in nature, happens for good reasons and without hidden agendas. It may be good or it may be bad, but it is consistent, open and honest. This is because nature doesn’t make moral judgments. But humans do. Once you bring moral issues into the picture, it matters whether you act with integrity or not.

Persons with high integrity:

  • Act honorably, whether others are looking or not
  • Treat others with respect, whether they deserve or demand it or not
  • Behave today like they did yesterday. If there is a change, they communicate it openly.
  • Express their true opinion when it is in the best interest of the organization, even if it may not be in the best interest of themselves
  • Admit their mistakes
  • Are intellectually honest and seek truth.

It is not possible to know the integrity of a person without observing them in various opposite circumstances: yesterday and today, in good times and bad, with friends and enemies, managing down and managing up, publicly and privately, in weakness and in strength. Those who demonstrate integrity draw others to them because they are trustworthy and dependable. They are principled and can be counted on to behave in honorable ways even when no one is watching. After all, character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you.

Integrity can also be looked through the lens of organizational culture and values. If there is little integrity in the organization, it does not matter what the culture is. Company culture can be strong only if there is high integrity in the organization. When integrity is high, trust ensues, and trust is the basis for all successful organized activity.

When integrity is lacking, organizations become political and slow-moving. Too much time is spent in fearfulness second-guessing others, guarding one’s own interests. Too much time is spent measuring, controlling and checking. Competitors move faster and win in the market.

In an organization with high integrity, productivity increases.

Alan Simpson said: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
Establishing uncompromising integrity is a duty for each member of the organization, and a special duty for the top leadership. Whether on your own or in a group, ask yourselves “What would be the high-integrity way to deal with this?” The answer leads to the right decision. Asking the question openly is a great reminder to each and every member of the organization of the importance of integrity.
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  1. I agree on the importance of integrity. However, I have noticed that people with high ambitions usually cannot live according to your point: “Express their true opinion when it is in the best interest of the organization, even if it may not be in the best interest of themselves”. This is, of course, very visible amongst politicians, but also in business organisations. Especially in larger companies, where “climbing the ladder” is considered normal. Seldom is integrity awarded when looking at persons. Maybe because it’s considered to be a must, but is it in fact always there?

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