The story goes something like this. I'm sitting at the dinner table with my children, and my son says he has a dilemma – a decision he needs to make. For months he's been attempting to get a specific contract with a potential work client – a contract that will really set his small business on a course to long-term success – a deal he desperately wants to clinch.
There's just one thing. The client has said the contract is his for the taking – if he's willing to pay a bribe. He has the funds to pay that bribe. More to the point, should he?
I want to advise him not to do it, but can I? Have I lived by the principles of integrity to give me the moral right to do so? Could I say to my son, "Don't give the bribe," knowing that I had lived my life categorically refusing to receive or give any kind of bribe under any situation?
This is the filter I use in everyday decisions I make – whether business or personal. My own decision filter that puts my deeds and actions to the test. I always ask myself will I be able to advise my children with all honesty and no hypocrisy. How will this decision impact the dinner I will have with them in the future? What answers will I give to their life problems?
Translate this into a leadership role – living by your own moral compass, and learning from the many mistakes you will inevitably make along the way. They will strengthen your integrity. Your integrity is an integral part of your DNA. It's what defines and shapes you – your own set of rules, or 'virtues', which define which assist you to make the right decisions in both your business and personal life.
It is that DNA that will tell you to always make promises you can keep – and if you break them, to have the integrity to acknowledge you have done so – to learn from your mistakes and not make the same mistakes again.
Integrity doesn't stop with an individual. It creates an environment for the people around you to be honest enough to offer their views on the decisions and actions you take – and for you as a leader to have the openness and transparency to listen and take their feedback on board. It is what distinguishes great leaders from mediocre ones.
If you're genuine about your own integrity as a leader, you will want the same from others – not to be surrounded by yes men or cronies. We can all wax lyrical about our strengths – but are often far less wise or aware when we need to examine our weakness. A leader with integrity creates an environment of complete honesty and transparency – where the people around you feel they can be honest enough to tell you about your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who are not just as good as you but better than you. Surround yourself with people who will breath down your neck.
At the same time, developing your integrity DNA – and making what you believe to be the right decisions — also means often not making the easiest ones. Writing this reminds me of a saying – 'a great sailor is not made a great sailor through calm waters'. Likewise, the experience curve is a bumpy ride. If it isn't, you're probably not gaining the most out of it.
Of course, we're not all international leadership icons – but our own integrity levels have their own profound effects on the world and individuals that surround us – that will either inspire or destroy – that will activate our hindsight to make the right decision not just for now, but for the possible consequences for ourselves and others in 10, 20, 30 years from now. And most definitely will impact the future of our children and loved ones.
The decisions you make might not always be the right ones, but should be the ones you believe are right. Let your integrity flow towards others – and it will yield a return.
Let your integrity become a disease infecting others to become "good human beings".