Anywhere that two or more people linger together for a few minutes seems to provide all of the opportunity for gossip to develop. People don’t seem to whisper the praises of accomplishments, good deeds or congratulations while huddled together where others can’t hear them. Many business leaders develop a set of corporate values, a list of guiding principles suggesting the desired behavior of employees.
The human resources manager recognizes that people need constant reminders of the values and posters are mounted in visible places throughout the office areas. Places where people gather are likely to result in the values list being seen more frequently. Ironically, one of those places is on the wall next to the water cooler, the fountain of gossip.
Business leaders love to include on their values list a phrase about a commitment to integrity. To make any of these meaningful, leaders must exhibit the behavior they want in their organization, or the very process of writing values statements itself lacks integrity. Integrity is a complex concept. At its simplest level, it is operating from a position of high moral character and being truthful. Integrity comes from the Latin word integer meaning whole, or complete.
Combining these ideas, consider this broader definition:
"Integrity commits itself to character over personal gain, people over things, service over power, discipline over impulse, commitment over convenience, and the long view over the immediate." John Maxwell
Let's take a look at each one of the key phrases in Maxwell's statement:
"Character over personal gain"
Character builds the trust required to gain support from employees, suppliers and customers alike, and to build strong and sustainable organizations. If your climb to the top of the corporate ladder is built on personal gain alone, then you will have not developed any trust within the organization. Instead, you may have built a culture where everyone is looking simply for what is in it for themselves.
"People over things"
Businesses are run by people, and by all the people in them. Customers buy from people. People provide service and support to clients. Focus on the needs of your people to ensure you have a highly motivated and empowered workforce. If your priority is on fancy buildings, furniture, and the accumulation of objects, then your people will learn that they cannot rely on you.
"Service over power"
Leaders must place a high priority on helping their people be more productive. This includes providing clear direction, allocating resources, assisting in problem solving, giving advice and counsel, and breaking down barriers. This way they will be serving their employees and their organizations and building loyal and highly effective teams. That trust will be vital when challenging the organization to achieve new goals or to meet unexpected changes.
"Discipline over impulse"
Occasionally opportunities present themselves that would offer an immediate gain. In order to benefit from an opportunity, a disciplined leader must determine whether they will have to compromise any values, risk any relationships, or break any trust. That discipline keeps the leader and the organization on an even keel.
"Commitment over convenience"
Commitment requires a relentless pursuit of your mission every day and in every decision that you make. Leaders must do what they say and demonstrate that they intend to execute their long-term goals. This is a constant and persistent process of communicating and planning and executing.
"The long view over the immediate"
Sometimes the easy path might appear more convenient and with more immediate gratification. If it takes the organization away from its vision, the long-term impact of that decision is very costly. Leading with integrity means that you evaluate every decision or course of action for consistency with the vision and direction of the company.
Focus on integrity first, and on its true meaning of wholeness and completeness, then you can build an organization built on a strong foundation of honesty and trust. Better yet, you will create a sustainable profitable enterprise that can withstand and endure the many challenges it will face.
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