Integrity and the Entrepreneur at Work

In my last blog I shared the fact that as a business leader or an entrepreneur, your personal and professional integrity are critical elements of your success; they maintain your reputation and are key for getting and retaining the support of your clients or customers, stakeholders, and of course, your team.

But in a real world, practical sense, what does that really mean?

Consider the scenario where your business is about to soar to new heights, potential business opportunities and more money await.

All it takes is for you, as the leader, to sign on the dotted line. All you might need to do is accept a payment from a supplier for the “favourable consideration” of his or her product over the competitors’. All you might need to do is leave out certain figures from your financial records so you wouldn’t ever have to “burden” your investors or stakeholders with them.

You want to get this deal done and all it takes is your signature or assent. But something is off. You can feel it in your bones. Your team knows it too. But nobody says anything because all eyes are on the prizes of more business, more money, and more clout.

One little lie or one little cut corner is all it would take and the deal is done. But by “done”, however, I mean ruined. As Warren Buffet said, “Trust is like the air we breathe — when it’s present, nobody really notices. When it’s absent, everyone notices.”

Signing on that questionable dotted line is the start of taking the air out of your organisation. It’s a first step towards undermining all that you have worked so hard to build and maintain. If we’re talking shortcuts, then compromising your integrity is the best short cut to failure that you can possibly take. It’s just that simple.

But it is also simple to maintain that integrity. If you’re up for the challenge consider these integrity rules to lead by:

  1. Walk the walk
    Great leaders never compromise their integrity.

    Integrity must start at the helm. As the leader, it must start with you before it can permeate your team’s culture and way of operating. From there, once it has caught hold, it will become a permanent fixture of your organisation’s heart and soul. In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, yes, you need to have a good idea and the leadership to make it happen, but you also need to demonstrate integrity at all times to sustain it.

    Inherent in demonstrating integrity as a leader is treating everyone with respect and erring on the side of fairness. Clients, stakeholders, employees – everyone wants to be respected and everyone is deserving of respect regardless of cultural differences, positions, races, ages, or any other types of distinctions.

    How fairly you treat people, regardless of their affiliation to you and how fairly your organisation acts in your day-to-day dealings is also a hallmark of integrity in leadership. Any entrepreneur, who doesn’t expect this from the entire team, can expect the business to falter – regardless of how great a product or service you render.

  2. Keep your promises

    This one is easy. Well, sort of…

    We all make promises. Great leaders keep theirs. So it’s best not to make promises glibly. Give a great deal of thought to the process required to meet your commitment and, once you have given a promise, follow through on it without fail or exception. If you are unable to fulfil it, integrity demands that you be honest in communicating where you have fallen short and earnest in doing your best to not repeat.

    Regardless of your industry or field, business leaders who understand the correlation between making a promise and making good on that promise are the ones who can truly transform a million-dollar idea into a million dollars.

    They are the ones who do well because they understand that their word is the greatest thing they can give to others.

  3. Own your mistakes; Work together to fix them

    A leader therefore needs the courage to be right but also to be wrong. There are many leaders who eventually fail because they refuse to question their own assumptions or decisions.

    If there is even the slightest possibility that you are partially wrong or even completely wrong, you owe it to your clients, stakeholders, and employees to explore that possibility to the fullest extent. You owe it yourself as an entrepreneur and a leader to be open to that and be willing to do what it takes to make amends or to set it right.

    Who knows? Maybe you are not in the wrong. Maybe the fault is outside of your remit, but opening yourself to the possibility that you could have acted better will make you a more effective leader because it will invariably open your mind to new ideas and new ways of thinking.

  4. “Truth is an offense but it is never a sin”

    Bob Marley hit the nail on the head when he rendered this lyric.

    Leaders with integrity are not afraid to face the truth, regardless of what the truth may be. This may mean making the tough but right call or accepting the fact that present conditions are as they really are and not how you would wish them to be, especially when those conditions are unfavourable, challenging and have the potential to affect hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of lives.

    Telling the truth, even if that truth is ugly, may be an offense to some but it is never a sin. Many businesses fail because they don’t understand and follow this simple rule.

  5. The mark of integrity in leadership

    Integrity and reliability are essential traits of the successful entrepreneur. Without integrity and reliability, an entrepreneur cannot build and sustain trust and confidence. These two traits can help build a loyal following and a robust relationship among both suppliers and consumers.

    That said, integrity is a slippery slope, if you don’t embody it. If you compromise your integrity in small situations with little consequence, it becomes very easy to compromise on the small situations.

    So tell me, in what ways does your organisation demonstrate integrity and ethics? Let me know for our next talk in which I’ll share some tips for ensuring your business passes the integrity test.

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