Four principles for high integrity


The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, wrote: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” It’s a great observation, one that most of us should take to heart. As business professionals, it is so easy to get caught up in anticipating the future, placing bets on what’s to come and incessantly maneuvering to improve our own position within the firm. So easy, in fact, that we often fail to recognize the effect that we are having on the people that we work with and the businesses in which we work.

I don’t know about you, but, I want to be able to look back at my professional life and have no regrets as to the way that I treated the people that I worked with and for. Here are four principles that I try to live by. They have served me well. I hope that they can help you, too.

Embrace these principles and you will lead a high integrity business life:

Right is right: No amount of spin and positioning ever changes this fact. Sure, if you want to make yourself feel good, you can run free and easy with the facts and disregard the spirit of your agreements. But, at the end of the day, your true character bleeds through. Once that’s exposed to you and your colleagues and customers, it’s nearly impossible to wash out.

Your words matter: Words are powerful indicators of your character. They can be used to enlighten. They can be used to deceive. Exaggeration and failing to reveal pertinent information are also ways in which we use words to manipulate situations and bend them in our favor. Work to eliminate any ambiguity in what you’re saying. If you always tell the truth, there’s no need to spend time avoiding it!

Your deeds matter: You can say anything, but, it’s your actions that count the most. If you’ve done something wrong, you should do whatever it takes to make it right. Certainly, we’ve all made mistakes. But, the difference between high integrity people and those that choose the easy way out is how hard they’re willing to work to correct a bad situation that they had a hand in creating.

Honor is gained only through trustworthiness: Saving the best for last, trustworthiness is the foundation of a high integrity business life. Without it, you have nothing. But, when you are trustworthy, your words and actions hold extraordinary value. You don’t spend your time making excuses for not following-though on what you’ve said. You don’t forget your promises when emerging situations make it convenient to do so. Consistently conduct your affairs in a manner that is worthy of trust and an honorable business life will have fallen into place.

To close, I recognize that the concepts offered here are simple to list and much harder to live by. Not reserved for just your business life, these rules underpin what makes-up a good person - one who is respected and admired - in any walk of life. Sure, it’s easier to be deceitful and selfish than to operate at a high-level of integrity. But, when given a choice (and we all have a choice), don’t you want to be able to look back at your professional life with pride and appreciation, knowing that you did whatever it took to maintain your integrity? For me, it’s worth more than money!

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About The Author

James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr

James M. Kerr is the Global Chair of the Culture Transformation Practice at N2Growth and the author of The Executive Checklist. A specialist in organizational design and cultural transformation, he has been helping clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed for more than 25 years. Kerr’s next book is due out later in 2016 and focuses on leadership and strategy-setting.