For everyone in business, personal integrity is crucial for having a good reputation, self-respect and achieving long-term success. There are of course many examples of successes won by cheating and lies, but these will always be temporary. Consider the case of Theranos, a blood-testing start-up once valued at $9 billion and subsequently found to have misled investors out of $700 million. Both its founder and former president are now facing criminal charges of wire fraud after they schemed to defraud investors, doctors and patients. Its founder, Elizabeth Holmes, is also banned from serving as an officer or director of a public company for ten years but even after that, I doubt she’ll ever raise any money from investors again.
Therefore to achieve long-term success, integrity is a crucial element. For entrepreneurs it is important for gaining and keeping investor and team member support, for companies it is important for gaining and keeping employees, customers and suppliers, for investors it is important to consider an ethical investment strategy since a portfolio reflects the investor’s values despite the prospect of attractive returns.
The standard definition of integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. It is a state of mind rather than situational, meaning you are consistent in your actions at all times, not just when others are looking. We all face integrity-based choices on a daily basis and in reality we all define integrity differently. For example I’m sure Elizabeth Holmes justified her actions because she thought that her blood-testing device, if it worked, would revolutionise the diagnostic industry and ultimately save lives. Therefore, while we all think we know what having integrity involves, I have listed below what I think are some of the crucial aspects of integrity in business:
Meeting your commitments: Whether turning up to a meeting on time, completing work on schedule or in my case, making the promised introduction, fulfilling promises and meeting commitments is important for your reputation and how likely people are to do business with you again.
Being honest: This means admitting mistakes and telling the whole truth however painful this might be in the short-term. It involves not overselling an outcome and not telling people what they want to hear since these create a short-term perception in you that can be your undoing if expectations are not met. I believe that underselling is more honest since the outcome is more likely to be exceeded and therefore your reputation enhanced instead of the other way around. Essentially being honest with yourself and others will help protect you from being held to account and as a result you can’t go too far wrong in business or in life.
Working by a strong and consistent moral code: By setting yourself certain standards of behaviour to stick to you should avoid unscrupulous or immoral others and build a positive reputation.
Being authentic: Essentially, be yourself.
Treating others with respect: We all know business is as much, if not more about relationships than anything else. Being courteous and considerate to all those you meet and work with need not compromise being tough and frank. Respect also involves not doing things which disrespect yourself or others such as bullying, deceit, infidelity or fraud. Such honest dealings do not go unnoticed or unremembered.
Building trust: Doing all of the above will help inspire the trust of others, both in you and your business. We all know however that trust is much harder to build than to break. One instance of dishonesty, of not meeting a commitment, of wavering morals can lead to a break down in trust. As William Godwin once said: “No man knows the value of innocence and integrity but he who has lost them”.