“In looking for people to hire, look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first one, the other two will kill you.”
Warren Buffet said that. As Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, one of the most successful companies in the world, Buffet knows a thing or two about maintaining integrity, and his quote reflects his commitment to this pursuit. Intelligence and energy without integrity make for dangerous chaos. They make for loose cannons, employees who are capable of a lot yet cannot be trusted. When a business needs stability, unregulated passion can send a company off the rails.
Integrity stands as one of the pillars of running a reliable, effective business. A business with integrity means customers trust the business to deliver a consistent product or service – voting, ultimately, with their money. Investors trust the business to be financially lucrative and worthy of the capital they sink into it – again, ultimately voting with their money. Integrity is what makes a company reputable, and the essential impetus for this reputation is the business leader him/herself.
Business leaders have tricky decisions scattered around their desks. They have people to appease, certain interests to look out for, deadlines and bottom lines to meet, customers itching to voice an opinion – the list is endless. In this vicious trudge through the challenges, leaders may abandon certain principles along the way, core values they once held dear to their company’s raison d’être but now view as negotiable. Finding the balance between what stays and what goes ultimately sculpts that leader’s integrity and determines how he or she defines it.
“In some ways the value statements about integrity are meant to remind us that integrity is not just a corporate responsibility, but a personal one as well,” managing partner of Schaffer Consulting, Ron Ashkenas, writes in Harvard Business Review. “If you are a manager, you can apply these values by setting aside time with your team to share integrity dilemmas and choices and discuss the thinking behind individuals’ decisions.”
Ashkenas’ ideas center around communication. The leader who delegates and reappropriates tasks as someone else’s duties, Ashkenas argues, eventually is able to transcend rationalizing acts that do not align with his/her values, and reevaluate what makes the company tick. Maybe s/he believes overstating his/her projected earnings is necessary to engender trust among investors. Maybe s/he believes certain favors are actually veiled bribes. Whatever the case may be, discussing these issues in what Ashkenas calls a “safe” environment, enables all interested parties to parse out the relevant information and arrive at a workable definition of integrity. More importantly, they do it together.
When it comes to establishing a company’s practicing ideas of integrity, group opinions are vital – precisely because integrity means something different to everybody. The real challenge is evaluating which forms of integrity matter the most, and to whom they matter.
Ultimately, integrity matters because it differentiates and supports your brand. It separates those whose motivation derives only from a company’s current success from those who stick it out when things get rough. Reputation and integrity matter to consumers and investors. In our age of social media, reputations build slowly, but deteriorate quickly.
We saw how rapidly companies with established reputations crumbled in 2008, as financial risk coupled with questionable behavior impacted economies around the globe. Subsequently, stakeholders have increased their expectation of integrity among business leaders. Developing trust doesn’t come quickly or easily.
Keeping with Warren Buffet’s advice, unbridled passion lacks a spine, a backbone. It denies you, the business leader, the necessary certainty that your company will be dedicated to your business’ core values – what Simon Sinek calls the why of your company. So which do you want for your business: to walk tall, or to crumble, under the weight of a spineless skeleton?