Michael C. Jensen, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and former professor of finance and business administration at the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester has four simple words to say about integrity…“without it, nothing works”.
In our experience, Professor Jensen is not only right, but he brings great clarity to the concept of integrity. He defines integrity as “a state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, and sound, in perfect condition”. He goes on to say that an organization is “in integrity” when “it is whole and complete with respect to its word. This includes that nothing is hidden, no deception, no untruths, no violations of contracts or property rights”. To us, this means that an organization “in integrity” is transparent and in balance.
This is a tall order for any company or organization, and requires strong leadership, clarity of mission and intent, and a heavy dose of persistence. It also requires deliberate screening of new recruits to ensure they are hard wired for integrity. Integrity must be a stated value of every company and be woven into the very fabric of the culture. Team members, to include all leaders, must walk the talk with integrity, on and off the job, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This can get very sloppy when a company adopts integrity as a virtue rather than an absolute. When considered a virtue, integrity is all too often sacrificed when an individual or company considers it “more important to succeed”. Virtue is valued by too many people for the wrong reasons and can be easily cast aside when it can be rationalized or not noticed. It becomes merely an aspiration. Professor Jensen asserts that “sacrificing integrity as a virtue seems no different than sacrificing courteousness, or new sinks in the men’s room”.
One of our principles is “Do The Right Thing When No One Is Looking” — it means you have to have integrity in all aspects.
Where do you, your company, and team members stand with integrity? Is it a virtue or an absolute? We suggest that a good grounding for integrity can be found in the West Point Cadet Prayer, which reads in part “Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won”. These are powerful words and have been our guiding light for the past 41 years.
Sadly, most companies and organizations embrace integrity as a virtue. As a consequence, we get what we get. Think about this and be honest with yourself. Level Five leaders not only aspire to embrace integrity, they live it. Remember, integrity is the glue that holds it all together… Enjoy the journey!
You can learn more about our leadership philosophies in our book “We’re All In.” You can get a copy of the first chapter for free here.