December 16, 2010 | Barb Carr

Weave that Integrity by Captain George J. Burk

Integrity: “Rigid adherence to a code of behavior; soundness; completeness.” ‘What you do when no one’s around or you don’t think anyone’s watching.’ Synonym: honesty.

Integrity is woven into every fabric of our lives (or it should be) and into the culture of your organization (or it should be.) Integrity is a critical component of our character and an organization’s culture.  It can guide you through some of life’s many challenges and the economic and political rough spots your organization will and does experience.  It gives you a road map for your personal life and an organizational road map on how to deal with employees (internal customers) and clients (external customers.) Here are a few tips to weave in that integrity:

Stay true to your core. Successful individuals and leaders don’t give integrity and its role in their lives a second thought. It’s just who they are as individuals, how they were raised and how the organization functions.  “It’s part of my principles in how I live my life,” says Tami Longaberger, chief executive officer of Longaberger Co., a Newark, Ohio based basket maker.  “When I run into someone who does things without integrity, I don’t want to deal with them.”  What are your core values? Have you ever thought about them? Write them down. That process can become your contract with yourself.  If you don’t know what they are, then I believe (know) that over time, it will become second nature to make decisions on the easiest course of action, based solely on the most popular decision, rather than the right and moral path to take.

A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.”  ~John C. Maxwell, author

Build loyalty. For example, Longaberger once had to cut costs and aimed to lay off a particular employee. But that worker provided excellent customer service and had a family with children. Then he developed a brain tumor. Longaberger knew she couldn’t fire him then.  She also offered to help with his treatment.  The employee recovered and kept his job.  “To me, that was the right thing to do,” she said. “That kind of situation defines the kind of business you are.”  Loyalty begets loyalty. It’s easy to be loyal when things are going well; the test of loyalty is when your loyalty and other core values are tested.  It also builds loyalty among employees said Longaberger, whose book is called “Weaving Dreams.”

“Circumstance don’t determine a man, they reveal him. ~Eric Allenbaugh, writer

Be consistent. Integrity and honesty, two personal and organizational critical core values, are vital to personal and organization success. Without them, people won’t trust you and clients will soon learn that you choose to not stand behind your product or service; your actions don’t match your words. Integrity and honesty are the “table stakes,” says Mark Eppler, a Cincinnati-based leadership trainer and consultant. “That’s the minimum needed to get into the game.”  Integrity and honesty can’t be situational. Individuals and organizations must do everything with integrity. “You’re talking about something so fundamental that every decision flows out of it,” Eppler said. I believe that a person without integrity and honesty will ultimately fail and organizations, leaders and politicians without them will fail, too. For example, look at polls taken over the past several years of Congress. The public’s opinion of Congress is, arguably, at an all-time low. Then look at Americans opinions of our military, firefighters and related professions. Talk about a paradox!

“Mommy, if a man who doesn’t have any integrity is naked, doesn’t he get cold in the winter?” “No, honey, I’m not talking about clothing for his body but clothing for his soul.” ~Willa Burk, mother to her then seven year old son, George (1948.)

Win trust. To be open and honest with your employees, you must first be open and honest with yourself. Dare I say it again? It’s sequential, inside out, not outside in; personal, then professional. Openness and honesty must be emotionally automatic. You don’t have to stop, even for a second and think about them. Regardless of the situation, be open and honest with yourself and with your employees. Eppler calls it “devastating integrity.” He adds: “The only way you can gain trust is to be resolutely honest. That doesn’t mean I won’t make a mistake. It means if I do, you will know about it immediately because I will own up to it.”  Remember: “Truth stings but lies hurt.”

We are all travelers in the desert of life, and the best we can find in our journey is an honest friend.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson, novelist

Become the benchmark. Become the quality person (you know it when you see it, hear it, sense it, feel it) and leader by which others are measured and evaluated. Show the type of behavior(s) you expect from your family, friends and staff.  In other words, “walk-the-talk.” It takes little or no physical and/or emotional effort to be negative or “bad.” That’s the easy choice and the road that should be less travelled. “As the leader, I have to say, ‘Did we do what we said we would do?'” Longaberger said. “If we don’t have our word, we have nothing.” If that happens, then you are “naked” personally and professionally.

Lead in tough times. A poor economy or tough personal issues may tempt people to take some shortcuts. They may want to fudge on their taxes, lie to a client or an employee, their friends or family. It’s times like these when you have to step up and demonstrate the leadership values you’ve articulated. Integrity is not a sometimes core value when things are going well and the world seems right, it’s an always core value, especially valuable when your world seems topsy-turvy. That’s another of life’s subtle but critical tests.

Create shared values. Lead and encourage your family and staff to live by the same core principles you do. For an organization, the first step is to hire to the organizations culture, hire people who are as focused and committed to integrity and ethical behavior as you are. You should also teach people to develop that outlook, Longaberger says. “And if people don’t share that integrity level, you can’t tolerate it.”

“Better to do a good deed near at home than go far away to burn incense.”  ~Amelia Earhart, aviator

Don’t sell your ‘soul’ to the ‘devil.’ As with just about everything is life, there’s a long-term cost to be paid by misleading people, Eppler says. You may win the contract or fool some of your family and friends now. But sooner or later, family and friends will learn the truth about you and companies will also learn that you won’t stand behind your product or service. People will treat your differently, if at all, and companies won’t do business with you.  Friends, family and business associates smile and shake your hand but in their mind, they probably say, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” “The system is self-correcting,” Eppler said.

The stories of past courage…can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look into his own soul.”  ~John F. Kennedy, 35th U.S. president

Learn more about this author by visiting his website:  www.georgeburk.com.

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