“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50 percent of your time in leading yourself--your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, and conduct. Invest at least 20 percent leading those with authority over you and 15 percent leading your peers.” — Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA
Over the course of my career of more than 40 years, 29 of those in the credit union industry, I cannot recall any speaker or any of my peers debating the differences between integrity and ethics. It may have been that we were all afraid of opening Pandora’s Box or perhaps, it hit too close to home. I was no angel. With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, neither were many of my peers, especially in the regulatory agencies.
Integrity is defined as adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. Ethics are the moral principles by which an individual determines his or her actions. Seems like semantics, doesn’t it? In practice, if you possess a clearly defined set of personal values, or “core personal beliefs”, which are non-negotiable, that serve as guides to your choices and actions, you’re operating with integrity, based on the ethics you hold dear. Your ethical standards contain do’s and don’ts. Whether you adhere to them or not is the challenge.
In other words, we all have the obligation to try to do the right thing; however, it’s often the case that leaders struggle and fail to act at all so as not to do the wrong thing. Sometimes, acting with integrity simply means having the guts to make a decision, even if it turns out to be the wrong one. If your intentions were pure when you made the decision, your co-workers and customers will be more likely to forgive your mistake than if the mistake happened because you failed to make any decision to try to prevent it.
James Thomas of www.allianceforintegrity.com speaks and writes on this subject and makes the distinctions that upright conduct, exemplary reputation, trustworthiness, adherence to standards, values, rules and principles, plus purpose, are all included in integrity. Without integrity, he says, all else turns to sand; and with it, comes fundamental benefits and higher performance. I completely agree. I will take it a step further, though. My view is that ethics and integrity are equal.
There are, without a doubt, a few organization leaders who have enjoyed success, despite a lack of integrity and ethics. However, from my experience, it usually catches up with them, at some point. Think the 2008 Banking Collapse. It was only a matter of time before the unscrupulous behavior of many of the financial systems’ leaders caused the system as a whole to self-destruct.
When I work with a coaching client, we discuss ethics and beliefs and how both affect them, personally and professionally. I have never accepted a client who does not model ethical behavior in all aspects of their life and work.
Your family, friends, co-workers, associates, customers and followers endow you with their trust and confidence because you demonstrate ethics and integrity. That you possess and demonstrate both guides your actions and shapes you as an ethical, successful organization leader and an example to others. It gives you the ability to inspire others to achieve their greatness.
So, where do you stand when it comes to your actions being in line with your ethics and integrity?
Take a sheet of paper and begin to write your personal narrative in response to the question: “Where do I stand now?” And be honest. Doing so will help you determine not only where you are, but also where you want to go.
- Has your behavior been consistent with your values?
- Do your values extend to your family and your business?
- Do you take full responsibility for your personal conduct?
Probes: Use these items below to start a dialogue in your organization:
- The honor code at almost all universities and military academies is “I will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.” What is your honor code?
- Have you relinquished honesty and accountability in the name of expediency?
- Does our organization have clearly defined values?