Life in business is generally viewed as macho, cut-throat, and uncaring.
It’s not perceived as an environment that fosters trust, openness and creativity. The behaviour of bankers in recent years has further advanced the belief that business is purely about profit and greed. It would appear there’s little place for integrity. Do we really want to continue in this vein?
The Value of Integrity
Integrity is an expression of wholeness in which people live out their values to their highest ideals. It is honesty and sincerity, and people with it show consistency between what they think, say, and do. They do not compromise themselves for easy material gain.
In business, integrity is a quality that shines through. Buyers feel safe around individuals of integrity and are secure in doing business with them; they know they will be respected. Many companies have mission statements stressing how important integrity is to them, but living it out under pressure requires real courage.
Standing your ground
James was CEO of a design house I used to be involved with. One of his key clients owed him a considerable amount of money and had recently placed a sizeable new contract. James had been pushing for payment, but it had yet to come through. The client had an arrogant attitude, and one day he arrived at the office and marched straight into the confidential area where James’s staff were working on his project. He knew that this was off limits and that there was a distinct possibility he could have seen classified designs belonging to other companies. Worse still, he started giving direct instructions to the staff, going over the heads of their managers. James was informed of what was happening and decided that was enough. He confronted him, told him he had gone too far, and briskly escorted him off the premises.
Once the infringement had been dealt with, James wondered what the outcome would be. He had risked the loss of a key client. The current project could have been switched to another provider, and payment of the outstanding invoices could have been maliciously delayed. The client could have delivered a devastating blow that would have ruined the company.
To James’s delight and relief, the outcome was the opposite. During ensuing visits, the client was respectful and honoured all boundaries. The project was completed successfully, and outstanding invoices were settled in a reasonable time frame. James demonstrated his absolute respect for his clients and his team. At a critical moment, he instinctively acted with integrity and enormous courage, and because he did so with total conviction, the outcome was successful. To this day the company is viewed as a quality supplier that can be trusted because it has such a high level of integrity.
CEOs with integrity always set the tone of their organisations. If the person at the top conducts their affairs with integrity, the rest of the team behaves similarly. People recognise it is the norm and live up to it. If, on the other hand, the CEO lacks integrity and deceives clients, fiddles expenses, or talks about others behind their backs, such behaviour is witnessed by staff, and they feel it is all right to behave likewise.
The Lure of Easy Money
The allure of easy money is very seductive. When the situation arises, we are tempted to extend our boundaries of honesty, albeit just a little at first. We invent convincing arguments to justify our actions, but once we have stretched our integrity, it becomes easier to unroll it further.
My own company was commissioned to undertake a sizeable project and we had completed considerable preparatory work. A first instalment had been paid, and we were waiting for our client to provide some necessary data. Despite requesting this several times, it never arrived, and the person who had commissioned the job changed roles and said nothing. This left me in a quandary: the money paid was significant, but I now doubted the work would ever get underway. What was I to do? I tried to convince myself that because we had done so much at the outset, and because they seemed so disinterested, we were justified in keeping the cash.
Had this been a one-off, I would probably have left it there, but it wasn’t. They were potentially an ongoing client, and whatever gain we had made was short term. This was brought to my attention quite suddenly at a trade exhibition, when I found myself in front of the company’s stand. Exhibitions are excellent opportunities for making and reviving connections. My own contact was not present, but his replacement was. I gave my summary of our offering and what we could do for them, but I lacked conviction. I felt awkward, something was blocking my energy, and I made no impact. I came away disappointed and perplexed.
A Clear conscience
On the flight home, I realised it was a sense of guilt that was thwarting me. I did not feel comfortable because I had not explained about the previous contract that his predecessor had commissioned and partly paid for. I had taken their money and delivered nothing. I knew I had compromised myself and was no longer coming from a place of integrity. Upon returning to the office, I emailed the new manager to explain what had slipped my mind, and we issued a credit note against their next project. I felt much better, and they were delighted. There was no longer any guilt blocking my energy, and the doors opened to discussions about future work.
The more we live with integrity, the more we attract clients with the same values. These are the ones we want. They are appreciative, pay their bills, do what they say they will do, and come back for more.
About the Author
John Reynard is a local business counsellor and author of ‘The Spiritual Route to Entrepreneurial Success’.
He started a restaurant with no previous catering experience, sold it as an ongoing concern and built a specialist market research company which became one of the fastest growing and most profitable in Europe.
He seeks to balance spirituality with practicality. Whilst the practice of spiritual principles opens the mind to creativity and new ways of solving problems, it needs to be balanced with savvy and common sense; naivety serves no one.